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Ecclestone and Willy T. Ribbs

NEWS STORY
08/11/2008

In a welcome move to stop the matter steamrollering totally out of control, Bernie Ecclestone has clarified comments made on Thursday when he appeared to suggest that scenes witnessed at Barcelona earlier this year and comments made on a Spanish website prior to the Brazilian Grand Prix, were only intended as a joke and had nothing to do with racism.

In the wake of his previous comment there was an instant, and predictably damaging, backlash, with some calling on the F1 supremo to step down, claiming that he was condoning the actions, condoning racism.

"It was at the beginning of the year and what I meant was those guys were clowns," he said yesterday, referring to the small group of fans at Barcelona in February who 'blacked up', wore wigs and donned T-Shirts bearing the words Hamilton's Familly (sic).

"They were a joke, they were clowns," he continued, emphasising the word. "If I had had the opportunity, I would have got those guys, dragged them into the paddock and asked them to explain themselves and say the things they were apparently saying directly to Lewis."

The 78-year-old was quick to dismiss claims that his earlier comments had upset Hamilton and his family, despite the best efforts of the British media.

"As far as this latest issue is concerned, I spoke with Anthony (Hamilton) yesterday and he understands the comments I made," said Ecclestone, "he has told Lewis and everything is fine.

"People should remember I was the one who pulled Formula One out of South Africa because of apartheid, so no one can say I am against black people," he added.

"I deal with Lewis and his dad all the time. We are good friends and I even play cards with Anthony. I have even had many black people come up and shake my hand and thank me for helping Lewis get into formula one. I've dealt with people all over the world for many years and I have no feeling with regard to religion, race, colour, creed or whatever."

In an effort to put the lid on this wretched saga, it should be remembered that back in 1986, when Lewis Hamilton was still in nappies, Ecclestone's Brabham team gave an F1 test to NASCAR racer Willy T. Ribbs at Estoril, thereby becoming the first black person to drive an F1 car.

Ribbs subsequently went to CART where he drove for (comedian) Bill Cosby's team.

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