How Bernie Ecclestone brought the first black man into Formula 1

( – Formula 1 has distanced itself after a controversial interview by Bernie Ecclestone and criticized his statements on the racism debate. Now Ecclestone is backed by a man who once had a great chance under Ecclestone: William “Willy” Theodore Ribbs. The special thing about it: Ribbs is dark-skinned.

Willy Ribbs with Gordon Murray and Herbie Blash at Brabham

Willy Ribbs in conversation with Gordon Murray and Herbie Blash during the Estoril test



Ecclestone had invited the American to Formula 1 test drives in Estoril in Portugal in 1986 and had Ribbs driven there for his Brabham team. So Ribbs became the first dark-skinned driver in Formula 1, but without racing.

At ‘CNN’ Ribbs explains: “[Ecclestone] wanted me in the car, he wanted to get me into Formula 1. Back then, he had sponsors from Italy who wanted to see Italian drivers. “

Ribbs has “only respect” for Ecclestone

In fact, with Andrea de Cesaris, Stefano Modena and Riccardo Patrese in the 1987 Formula 1 season, only Italians drove the Brabham cars that Ecclestone used under the Motor Racing Developments brand.

Willy Ribbs, Brabham

Estoril 1986: Willy Ribbs is the first dark-skinned driver to drive a Formula 1 car



Ribbs is still grateful to Ecclestone and says today: “My goal was Formula 1 and Bernie Ecclestone made a statement because Bernie Ecclestone put the first black man in a Formula 1 car.”

In general, he had “only respect” for Ecclestone and considered him a very capable businessman, Ribbs continued. “I don’t know if Formula 1 would still exist without Bernie Ecclestone.”

Ecclestone spoke again

For Ribbs, the Formula 1 test at Brabham remained a one-time affair. He finally made history in 1991 in his home country as the first African-American participant in the famous Indianapolis 500 of the IndyCar series. He took 32nd place.

And ecclestone? He was the Managing Director of Formula 1 until January 2017 and most recently held the title of “Honorary Chairman”. With his latest statements on the subject of racism, however, Ecclestone fell out of favor with the racing series.

In the ‘Daily Mail’, the 89-year-old defends himself and says: “I have nothing against black people, on the contrary. I have met many white people over the years that I did not like, but never a black person that I did not like. “

How Ecclestone justifies itself

He was attacked “a few times” in his life, “once by three blacks. I went to the hospital, but even after that I never had anything against blacks. In my eyes, Lewis is [Hamilton] not black or anything, just Lewis. “

Ecclestone continued: “If a black or white person is rejected in an application, you have to ask why. Was it because of the color of the skin or that it wasn’t suitable for the job?” That’s exactly what he wanted to say with his original comments, Ecclestone said.

“When I lost my driver’s license, I had a black driver, not because he was black, but because I didn’t care whether he was black or white. But now it’s suddenly fashionable to talk about diversity.”

“It’s not my fault that I’m white – or a little bit smaller than many others.”

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