Updated Oct 20, 2022 - Sports

Willy T. Ribbs reflects on diversity in Formula 1

Willy T. Ribbs stands on the grid prior to the Camping World Superstar Racing Experience event at South Boston Speedway in June in Virginia. Photo: Jared Tilton/SRX/Getty Images

As hundreds of thousands of fans descend upon the Circuit of the Americas this weekend for the U.S. Grand Prix, Driftwood-based Willy T. Ribbs will be among them — as he is nearly every year — to cheer on a sport he says has made impressive progress since he was behind the wheel.

Catch up quick: Ribbs, a diversity and inclusion representative for Formula 1, became the sport's first Black driver to test an F1 car and the first Black driver to race in the Indy 500.

  • He endured years of racism, death threats, engine sabotage and more as a driver in the '90s.
  • "It was a tough trail to blaze, but I did it," Ribbs told Axios. "I'm still picking arrows out of my behind, but I pioneered it, and the sport has now recognized that."
  • Ribbs has lived in Driftwood since 2006.

What they're saying: "I think it's going faster in terms of diversity and inclusion than it's ever gone, and in a short amount of time," Ribbs said, noting that Lewis Hamilton — the first Black driver to race an F1 car — has "got the record book."

  • "That's what Formula 1 has done as far as people of color," Ribbs added. "Formula 1 sees that this is something that they are absolutely going to be involved with to grow the sport."

Yes, but: The motorsport still has a ways to go.

  • The Hamilton Commission found that only 1% of motorsport engineering jobs are held by Black workers.
  • Not to mention only two women have ever competed at the Grand Prix level, and Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali in August said he can't "see a girl coming into F1 in the next five years."

Of note: Formula 1's popularity in the U.S. has surged since the 2019 premier of Netflix's "Drive to Survive" — a docuseries that takes viewers behind the scenes of F1.

What to watch: The Circuit of The Americas hosts the Grand Prix, where the sport's top drivers will race 56 laps on the 3.426-mile track.

  • Three practice rounds take place Friday through Saturday.
  • A qualifying round begins Saturday at 4:55pm, with the Grand Prix beginning at 12:30pm Sunday.
  • Plus, artists Ed Sheeran, Green Day and Interpol are among 38 musical acts expected to be at the weekend-long event, which officials say is likely to break all-time attendance records at COTA.

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