Will Next Season See The First Black F1 Driver?

November 17th, 2006 by William

Lews Hamilton–click to go to his fan site.
Formula One racing is an incredibly diverse sport. In the 2006 season there were races held in 16 different countries with drivers hailing from 13 different countries and spanning five different continents. Despite the fact that in its 56 year history F1 has been a veritable UN, there has yet to be a Black driver to race in the prestigious series. That may all change next season when the McLaren Mercedes team announces its driver lineup for 2007.

Lewis Hamilton is poised to become the first Black Formula One driver in the history of Grand Prix racing. The 21 year old Brit just wrapped up a spectacular season in GP2 (an F1 feeder series) where he won the drivers championship; only weeks later he ran a few days of testing in the 2006 F1 car at the Silverstone circuit in England. Even in the early stages of testing young Hamilton looked very promising, and in all likelihood he will get a shot at driving for the McLaren-Mercedes team in 2007.

So what does this mean for the sport of F1? Will Hamilton become the Tiger Woods of grand prix racing? While this is a tremendous accomplishment for Lewis, the world of F1 is a far cry from the PGA where as recently as 1990 some of the tour courses wouldn’t admit Black members. Even though there haven’t been any Black drivers in Formula One up to this point, the F1 crowd is used to different languages, cultures and colors. It would shock me if there was any type of backlash to his being there, like there was in the early days of Tiger. Don’t get me wrong, it is great for the sport of F1, the highest level of motor racing there is, to have a prominent Black face in the mix; but I don’t think Hamilton’s arrival will be as prolific as some members of the media have predicted.
Pic of Bill Lester courtesy of his BillLester.com
Interestingly 2006 might mark the end of the line for another prominent Black driver and NASCAR’s only Black driver, Bill Lester. Lester, who is from my hometown of Oakland, CA, has been driving in the Craftsman Truck series for another NASCAR minority, Toyota. He has been chasing every driver’s dream of running a full season in the premier Nextel Cup series. At 45 years old Lester is no spring chicken in the racing world, but he still successfully competed in two Nextel Cup events this year making him the first African American to do so in 20 years. After failing to qualify for what would have been his third start this season, Lester’s sponsorship hopes for next season are looking a bit slim. He will most likely continue running in the Craftsman Truck series but at this point his future is unknown.

I sincerely wish the best of luck to both Lewis Hamilton and Bill Lester. As a staunch supporter of diversity in all sports I think their achievements should be commended.

-Bill Mertz

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