Justin Wilson died today after suffering a head injury in the closing stages of an Indycar race in Pocono, USA. While we were not close – I haven’t seen him in ten years – he was a friend that I’ve known and respected.
Justin was someone who always stood out when you met him and not just because he was six foot four. He was the gentlest and nicest driver I ever met, by a long way. And I’m not the sort to use the word “nice” when describing a person, but Justin was special in that way.
He was also blindingly quick. We came up through the ranks in the UK together, while I did F3; he was winning the Formula Palmer series. We then did our rookie year in F3000 in 1999. He would then go on to win the championship in 2001.
It’s a funny thing, but I was actually thinking about him for the first time in years on Sunday. I was covering the F1 race at Spa for Fox Sports and my co-host, Matthew Marsh reminded me of my crash there in ’99. Because, you see, Justin was the driver that put me in the wall at Eau Rouge.
I remember when I woke up in Hospital later and my team had explained that Justin had come down to see how I was and apologise. Well they were still riled out about the accident and the mechanics had chased him down the pit lane with spanners in their hands. I’ve no way to confirm this but that was what I was told.
The thing is that I felt bad for him then because I knew what a sweet bloke he was and that he would never have done that sort of thing on purpose. In my mind it was just a racing accident but I knew how upset Justin would have been from it – he was that kind of person.
Years later we hung out a bit while I was in Formula 1. He later took my seat in Minardi and while you wouldn’t think it, I was thrilled for him. He never had sponsorship and had to get to F1 the hard way and he deserved to have the chance to be amongst the best in the world.
Unfortunately his height meant that he did not have a long career in F1, but he was able to get to America where he has won several Indycar races over the years.
Anyway on Sunday night after the F1 race I stayed up to see the Indycar race and was thrilled to see him racing again for Andretti racing, because Justin had had to sit out most of the year after sponsorship dried up.
Justin had finished the previous race in second and I have no doubt he would have impressed Andretti in Pocono too. Unfortunately we will never know. My thoughts are with his family and everyone he loved. Goodbye Justin, you will be missed.