Willy T. Ribbs believes categories in the United States are ‘lightyears’ behind Formula 1 with regards to attitudes towards racism.
Ribbs was the first Black driver to test a Formula 1 car when he linked up with Brabham in 1986.
The now 65-year-old has been a guest of six-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton at the United States Grand Prix and has praised the Mercedes driver on his push to make Formula 1 more diverse.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team has a strong stance in its own anti-racism message after making a late switch to a black livery and apparel before the start of the 2020 season.
F1 has also launched its own campaign called ‘We Race As One’ as it attempts to become a more inclusive and diverse championship.
But Ribbs believes drivers based in the US are often afraid of potential losing out on commerical sponsorships if they were to take the stance towards anti-racism.
Speaking on F1’s official podcast, ‘Beyond the Grid’, Ribbs said: “Formula 1 is lightyears ahead of anything that America is doing, lightyears, to this moment.
“I think what that young man is doing is fabulous. Formula 1 is a worldwide sport, a huge platform.
“A lot of athletes, especially the ones over here in America, they’re afraid of losing money, they’re afraid of losing their commercial value.
“Lewis put it all on the line, and I’m watching these other drivers in Formula 1, all these young drivers, they’re all manning up. They’re manning up and doing the right thing.
“That’s what Muhammad Ali did, Muhammad Ali manned up. I’m proud of them. And I’m proud of Formula 1, and Mercedes more importantly. I’m dressed in all-black right now, because of Mercedes.”
During his career, Ribbs claims he faced abuse when racing in the US in IndyCar and NASCAR, claiming drivers used to spit at his feet in the paddock areas and even got into physical altercations.
Despite the troubles he often faced, Ribbs became the first African-American driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in 1991 and took part in NASCAR’s Truck and Cup series.
He was even given the nickname ‘Uppity’ which has since become the title of a documentary, recently released on Netflix.
“Hamilton can change a tonne,” he said. “I would like to team up with him on that. Lewis ran into a lot of opposition, but he didn’t get death threats. I know a little bit of how rough it is.
“Same with this young kid in NASCAR, Bubba Wallace, those boys don’t know how tough it was. But I dealt with it a different way. I never complained about it. If I dealt with it, I dealt with it with my fists. That’s how I dealt with racism, and I will continue to deal with it like that.
“I think the sport now sees here’s a great opportunity for it to really expand its base. Keep that momentum going. Bring on the next Lewis Hamilton.
“Formula 1 has got drivers from all over the world, from different countries. Formula 1 looks progressive. None of the other sports do, despite NASCAR having Bubba Wallace.”