Willy T Ribbs has hailed Lewis Hamilton as F1’s answer to Tiger Woods and believes the Mercedes driver “gets unfairly targeted” despite being the most successful driver in the sport’s history.
Ribbs became the first black driver to test a Formula 1 car in 1986, when he drove for the Brabham team – owned by Bernie Ecclestone – at Portuguese circuit Estoril.
Twenty years later, Hamilton became the first black driver to secure a race seat in F1 when he was announced as a McLaren driver for 2007 – as the team-mate to reigning two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso – after a triumphant GP2 (now F2) season.
Lewis Hamilton’s F1 impact compared to Tiger Woods
Hamilton took just six races to claim his maiden grand prix victory and has gone on to become the most successful driver in F1 history, equalling Michael Schumacher’s long-standing record of seven World Championships in 2020 before becoming the first to take more than 100 wins and pole positions the following season.
Ribbs has compared Hamilton’s impact on F1 to that of Woods on golf, claiming both men introduced their respective sports to new audiences – and he feels the Mercedes star is often subjected to unjust criticism.
He told the Independent: “Lewis Hamilton, after seven World titles and more victories than any other human being, gets unfairly targeted.
“If you can equate it to Tiger Woods, what did Tiger Woods do for golf? He broadened the audience. The attention went off the chart. That’s exactly what happened in F1 – Lewis Hamilton has been Formula 1’s Tiger Woods.
“He’s a very kind man. He’ll let it roll off, turn the other cheek – I wasn’t that way. He deals with it and in a lot of cases it’s unfair. Then again, he is in an environment which was not nearly as brutal as I was dealing with. Willy T Ribbs was treated differently.”
Ribbs, who in 1991 also became the first black driver to compete in the historic Indianapolis 500 race, detailed his own experience of racism in motor racing – and revealed that he took motivation from the abuse he would receive.
He said: “Of course, there were death threats, the n-word. But I enjoyed it. It didn’t make me mad, it was fun.
“I was going to dish out what they were dishing out to me, it never scared or intimidated me. I actually enjoyed it because it was motivating. I was never going to play the victim, that was not Willy T Ribbs.”
Despite claiming pole position for this year’s Hungarian Grand Prix, Hamilton remains without a victory for almost two years having last triumphed at the penultimate round of the 2021 season in Saudi Arabia.
He signed a two-year contract extension until the end of the 2025 season with Mercedes in August, which will take him to the brink of his 41st birthday.