Friends describe F1 marshal killed at Grand Prix as a major racing fan
MONTREAL— Formula One drivers led tributes Monday in honour of a local race-track worker who was killed during the Canadian Grand Prix.
Mark Robinson, who volunteered as a marshal for Sunday’s race, slipped under the wheel of a crane as it was escorting Esteban Gutierrez's Sauber car from the track, which had not finished the Montreal race.
A member of the Automobile Club de l'Ile Notre Dame, friends described the 38-year-old Robinson as a major F1 fan.
"I can only tell you that Mark was not a Formula 1 fan... he was 'THE' Formula 1 fan. He had knowledge about the sport that would just boggle anyone's mind and has been attending the event since the early eighties," friend Tyler Hall wrote in a message to CTV Montreal.
One of Robinson's childhood friends told The Canadian Press that his pal watched every F1 race on TV and taped any event he couldn't watch live.
Marty Devey says F1 was "like a religion" to Robinson and his annual work at the Canadian Grand Prix over the last decade was always a highlight of his year.
He says Robinson would have been turning 39 on Wednesday and his friends were planning to celebrate his birthday with him during their weekly softball game.
"F1 for him was kind of like getting a chance to be a roadie for the Rolling Stones once a year," Devey said.
"He thought about it, talked about it. For a quiet guy, if you started talking F1 with this guy, you wouldn't be able to quiet him down."
Robinson grew up in the Laurentian town of Sainte-Anne-du-Lac, but moved to Montreal in the 1990s. He worked in logistics at UPS.
Friends said he had a great mind for trivia, loved loud music and hard-hitting hockey, but that F1 racing was his passion.
Volunteering at the race was a dream come true said Devey.
"He looked forward to it every year," he said.
Car-racing officials from the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile issued a statement concerning his death.
"This tragedy has affected us deeply, and the whole of motor sport is profoundly touched by it," said the statement from Jean Todt, president of the FIA world body.
"In volunteering to be a marshal, Mark had made the choice to give his time, his knowledge and passion in the service of motor sport.
"All over the world, it is men and women like Mark who make possible the organization of motor sport events. Without these thousands of volunteers who give their all selflessly, motor sport would simply not get off the starting line."
Robinson was airlifted to Sacre-Coeur Hospital by helicopter after being stabilized by race-track trauma nurses. He was declared dead in hospital.
“It is very, very sad to hear that a marshal tragically lost his life. The work of marshals is not always seen, but it is vital to our sport and without their commitment, time and dedication, there would be no motorsport,” three-time defending F1 champion Sebastian Vettel, who won the race for Red Bull, said. “I am very, very sad to hear this news and my thoughts are with his family and friends.”
Eyewitness Nathanial Marx said he was shocked.
"My immediate reaction was, did I just see what I saw? There was an awful noise, with the cars swinging around and people trying to get the immediate situation under control," he said.
Gutierrez, who had been escorted from the track when the incident happened, used Twitter to send his "dearest condolences,” as did many other drivers.
"Shocked and saddened by the news that a marshal who is there to keep us safe has lost his life during our race today. Rest in peace my friend," Jenson Button of McLaren, who won in Montreal two years ago, said.
It was the third marshal death at a grand prix since the turn of the century, and first since 2001. No driver has been killed since Ayrton Senna’s death in 1994.
"Today there is nothing to celebrate. Terrible news arrive with the death of a marshal this race. Very sad. R.I.P," said two-time world champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, who was runner-up to Vettel on Sunday.
The Commission de la sante et de la securite de travail (CSST) said Monday that six months—give or take—would be needed to complete the report.
“Our inspectors were on the site last night and looked at the overall situation and what they will try to figure out over the next couple of days is what exactly occurred,” CSST spokesperson Jacques Nadeau said on Monday, adding that interviews with fellow volunteers would be forthcoming.
“They probably know exactly how he went under the tractor that was carrying the car,” Nadeau said. “But we need to let them cool off and let them find their senses. Our main concern is that the workers are in good health.”
The tragic accident appeared to come after the man reportedly fumbled his radio and was crushed after reaching to pick it up as the crane operator failed to see him.
Fans flooded onto the circuit as the ambulance emerged to treat the injured man at the end of the race. The crowds did not appear to hold up the emergency personnel.
“What happens every year is that when the race finishes, all the fans come running on the track, that’s the worst part is that it’s very hard to do an intervention, like if there a situation like this. Luckily it was okay for the ambulance to get out there,” said 57-year-old Ihsan Nkaitbey, who was working as a flag marshal at the race for the fourth time. Nkaitbey was working the very turn where the accident originated from.
“You can’t avoid that aspect of it, it’s part of the circus of Formula One. It’s a dangerous sport and it’s unfortunate to happen this way,” Nkaitbey said.
With a report from The Canadian Press