Well, at last it’s happened.
After just over 17 years of watching motorsport I can sadly inform you that I have witnessed my first live driver fatality.
Just nine minutes into last weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, 34-year-old Danish driver Allan Simonsen’s #95 Aston Martin crashed exiting Tertre Rouge.
The #95 car was clearly wrecked but I’d seen far worse crashes in my life: Martin Brundle in the 1996 Australian Grand Prix, Peter Dumbreck at Le Mans in 1999 and Robert Kubica in the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix for example.
When the news came through that Simonsen was being extracted from his car by Le Mans’ medical team I accepted that he had more than likely been hurt.
‘No problem’ I thought. I’ve seen drivers injured before: Olivier Panis (Canada ’97), Michael Schumacher (Silverstone ’99), Ralf Schumacher (Indianapolis ’04), Mike Conway (Indy 500 2010) to name the first ones that came into my head that weren’t Kubica or Felipe Massa’s horrific freak accident at the Hungaroring in 2009.
I believed Simonsen was fine when I saw from the official Le Mans Twitter feed that he was conscious and heard he had been talking to the doctors.
But soon after the news was broken that he had succumbed to his injuries.
All of the excitement of Le Mans 2013 instantly left my body and I just wanted the race to be over. Not even seeing Audi win yet again raised my spirits.
I’m not saying that I’ve been totally alienated from death in motorsport all my life. My hero is Ayrton Senna. Thankfully I didn’t see him die and I can’t begin to imagine what those who did felt like at the time.
Two marshals, Paolo Ghislimberti and Graham Beveridge, were killed at the 2000 Italian Grand Prix and the 2001 Australian Grand Prix respectively when I had barely started junior school. Even their deaths shook me.
I clearly remember finding out about Dale Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500 – I was waiting for the tape-delay broadcast when a special programme about Earnhardt was played and his death announced.
My Dad told me about drivers being killed in various North American single-seater series, and the double blow of loosing Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli in October 2011 was rather distressing to say the least.
And many was the hour I spent as a boy watching videos of motorsport history. Some dealt with and showed some fatal accidents.
At the most recent Grand Prix in Canada, track marshal Mark Robinson was killed which though 12 years after the previous death in F1; still upset me for the next few days.
To put it bluntly I’m surprised it’s taken as long as it has for me to witness a driver’s fatal accident live.
As I write this the Sunday night/Monday morning after Le Mans I feel a mixture of sadness, anger, frustration and contentment.
I’m sad for Simonsen’s friends and family – especially his baby girl who’ll never know her daddy. I’m also sad that perhaps the last piece of motorsport innocence I had has now finally gone.
However I’m angry with myself for enjoying a sport that even with today’s high safety standards can still cost its participants their lives. How dare I take so much pleasure out of seeing men and women risk their lives in such a way?
But then I remember that these men and women take great pleasure out of risking their lives and are fully aware that what they are doing is dangerous. They’ll never stop doing it. They may have to do it with a heavy heart like last weekend, but they’ll be back to do it all over again.
To a slightly lesser extent I’m frustrated that I’m once again exposed to death this year, but I’m not going to comparing chalk and cheese here.
Finally, I’m contented because in a bizarre way Simonsen received perhaps the greatest gift of all, something very few people in history get to do.
He died doing what he loved.