I recently received an email from some friends asking me if I would attend their forthcoming wedding. He is Norwegian, she is German, I am Australian. I met them in Paris when he was working in the French office of the American company I used to work for, and they have since moved to Frankfurt. A lot of my friendships go like that; I have friends of many nationalities, in many other countries, doing many different types of jobs. I love the diversity, but it becomes difficult to keep them all close. They asked me if I would be able to attend, but unfortunately I will be on the other side of the world as it will be held on the day before the Canadian Grand Prix. My parents have their fortieth anniversary on the day of the Japanese Grand Prix. My sister's wedding will be held in Scotland in the middle of the week after the British Grand Prix, in part so that I can attend. Birthdays constantly fall on race weekends on the other side of the world.
Formula One doesn't leave a lot of time for personal relationships outside of the paddock. Formula One is a jealous beast. Formula One wants us for herself, wants our sole attention.
I recently received an email from another friend of mine telling me that he would be in Barcelona for the Grand Prix; he found a cheap flight from Ireland, he wanted to lead me astray, and he was really happy about coming over, whether at the thought of seeing me or drinking Spanish beer - I'm not entirely sure. Either way, Sean has worked out the best way to see me is to come to Formula One and wait; he has been to a number of races now, and apart from the resultant damage to my liver every one of them has been great.
I stayed in a just large enough room in an apartment block turned hotel with Will and Bira in an area of Barcelona near la Sagrada Familia, an area of the city that begins to calcify into suburbs within blocks of our hotel. A hotel room on a race weekend is half baggage storage, half bed, and with Will away at a function Sean, Bira and I started the damage to ourselves before she retreated ahead of our offense, which was a metro ride away at Las Ramblas.
The life of a Formula One journalist sounds impressive from the outside; following the circus around should give us all an opportunity of seeing the grand cities of the world, to experience lives lived by others, to see all that we miss by living somewhere else. The reality is more prosaic. So many of the races are held in the middle of nowhere, in a field far from the cities everyone has heard of but never seen. So when a race is held somewhere close to something interesting, an extra effort needs to be made to avoid missing it entirely.
Bira has a saying that she uses a lot: yom asal, yom basal; which loosely translates from Arabic to 'some days are honey, some days are onion'. Seeing these grand cities, seeing them with my friends, is the honey. I just wish she'd use a bigger spoon sometimes.
Sean and I walked all the way up Las Ramblas and then all the way back, swapping text messages like pizza slices on a hungry night with Will until we found him. We followed the instructions on his phone from bar to bar, searching for the fun that was already there, that was inherent in our being together in the first place, that didn't need yet another venue but merely more lubrication for our already moist tongues.
"I'm going back to the hotel," I stated in the fifth bar, the one that looked like the others but different, the one that had the misfortune of welcoming us in at three in the morning. "I've got an interview in the morning."
"No you're not," Will indignantly slurred, "we've only just got here. I'm getting you a drink, and then you and I will work out the questions you've got to ask tomorrow."
"I'm going back to the hotel now; I can be either tired or hungover tomorrow, but I'm not going to be both. You should really come back too, given that I have the keys."
"You are staying here and drinking; the interview will be better if you're still drunk."
Arguing with a drunk is like wading through a tank of molasses; mildly amusing at the time, but slow going and messy.
"Don't ye have to work tomorrow?" Sean asked, not unreasonably, at four.
"I give up - I'm off. Can you look after Will and tell him I'll leave the door open for him?"
"You're not going anywhere – I'm buying some more drinks."
Barcelona works to my timetable; no one goes out until eleven at night, then they stay up until the sun rises, and they can't understand why the rest of the world doesn't understand them. Barcelona doesn't know what nine in the morning looks like. Barcelona explains why no one did anything other than drink bad coffee and chain-smoke when I used to come over for work in my past life. Barcelona doesn't work to a Formula One timetable.
I walked back up Las Ramblas to Placa de Catalunya to find a crowd of people waiting for the taxis that weren't there. I moved on, headed in the rough direction of our hotel; it gave me time to sober up, it gave me time to think. Barcelona fell noisily out of bars and restaurants all around me, hugged itself and moved on to the next one, yelling to itself all the while.
Vamos al bar al que fuimos la semana pasada, el de la camarera tan mona.
No, quiero ir al otro lugar; ése era un asco.
John One wasn't in Imola because his wife was ill, and he stayed home to look after her. Imola was a bit onion in his absence; it was faintly blurred around the edges without our usual chat; no-one makes fun of my flat cap quite as well as he does.
Formula One doesn't have friends. Formula One is its own social life. Somewhere between the two is everyone in the paddock.
John rang me during the week before Barcelona to reply to my email, to talk about work, to see if I'd had a haircut, to shoot the breeze and to catch up with each other. When he saw me in Barcelona, he just smiled and waved me over.
"How's your wife?"
"Oh, she's fine now, but she was annoyed at being in hospital on her birthday."
"But everything is okay now?"
"Sure, no problems at all. Did I miss anything in the paddock last week?"
"We decided not to hold the race; there seemed little point doing it without you there."
"It wouldn't have made much difference to our results lately."
I wish I'd asked what had been wrong with his wife, but I didn't know how. I think he wanted to tell me, but didn't want to start it up in the conversation. I was just happy that she was okay now, and that he was too. Formula One doesn't like us to get too personal; Formula One doesn't do emotions. John is one of my Formula One friends.
No me puedo creer que ganara el Valencia; el entrenador del Barcelona es un burro.
Al menos por una vez no ganó el Madrid.
The damp boulevards of Barcelona dully shone, the gloom stirred slightly by the Gaudi designed streetlights suspended well overhead. Like so much of the city the lights were designed to be beautiful rather than functional, but with light seemingly spilling from every window it didn't matter much. I walked north until I reached Casa Mila, turned right and continued until I found Casa Batllo, and then headed north again. Antoni Gaudi left an indelible mark on his city, was more influential in Barcelona than any architect in any other major city in the world.
I'd been talking about Gaudi earlier that day in the paddock with Bjorn. One of the stranger aspects of my job is it allows me to talk to people I never would have met in my former life, back in the days when I thought Grand Prix drivers were untouchable gods who lived a life of unimaginable privilege and plenty. Bjorn is a smart, shy, thoughtful person who has a foot in the door of Formula One and is growing in himself to fill the frame, and helping him write a column has given me an insight into the workload required to do a job that I had previously thought required little more than the ability to steer well.
Bjorn doesn't get out much; his team has his every movement logged and accounted for before he moves. Sometimes I wonder if they put a barcode on him for ease of movement. When he talks about driving his eyes look up as though he is seeing the lap again and marking it for content, but I can't help but think about how many of his future memories pass him by unheeded outside the gates.
"Have you been to la Sagrada Familia?" I asked as he worked through the bland chicken, pasta and broccoli lunch that accounts for every meal I've seen him eat.
"No, I haven't had much time to see anything actually. Is it good?"
"It's one of the most astonishing buildings I've ever seen, and it's still not finished."
"How long have they been building it?"
"Well over a hundred years."
"That's amazing! Why has it taken so long?"
"Well, it is the Spanish building it. And the architect was run over by a tram, which slowed things up a bit. But even so, it's is an amazing building."
"I'll have to try and see it," Bjorn replied, knowing as he spoke that there was no way his timetable would allow it over the weekend.
Bjorn and I are opposites in so many ways; he is younger than me, and his life has been focused on performing increasingly better in a collection of cars as he has made his way through the junior ranks with an eye permanently fixed on getting to where he is now. My life has been completely unfocused, with a number of different interests and avenues somehow allowing me to end up sitting next to him in his team's motorhome. His movements are deliberate, with purpose, even if it's just to pick up the pepper; I sometimes feel like a random collection of ill fitting bones and flesh.
He knows that he has missed a lot, but he also knows that his focus has to be absolute if he wants to go further in his career. I've seen a lot of things in my time, but have always wished for some of the focus that he has in spades. He's got plenty of time to do the things I tell him about when we chat in the paddock, but for now he always laughs at the increasingly ludicrous stories I tell him about our nights away from the paddock. I could already imagine the wry smile he would have on his face when I tell him about walking across Barcelona at 4:30 in the morning.
Hey nena, ven aquí un minuto.
Lárgate borracho idiota; ¿Qué te hace pensar que quiero hablar contigo?
I had entered into a cramped area of Barcelona, the buildings looming into the streets, bending over the footpath as if to block out the inky sky. A theatre had finished its play and the patrons were mingling with those from the overflowing bars in the already cramped streets, everyone trying to talk over the noise of everyone else.
The streets no longer ran straight, preferring to mix with each other, mirroring the patterns of those walking on them. I had no idea where I was, relying instead on heading in the approximate direction of the hotel and relying on luck. There were few suggestions that there was a Grand Prix being held in the area; one desultory poster showing Alonso driving through what looked like mustard gas apologetically taped to a window was the only sign that it may have been a different weekend to any other.
The only place I did see any overt publicity for the race was at the Baha Beach Bar. The walls were covered in posters and images from the race, and they had signs in Spanish and English welcoming race fans. The location was picked because McLaren had held a function there the year before which Will remembered fondly, and walking in we spotted a few team members sitting at one of the bars, as though the team bus from last year had forgotten to return for them.
Will and I met up with Sean there the first night, with Bira having sensibly chosen an early night ahead of the weekend; she often worries about the balance of our relationship between editor and friend, and I think on occasions like that she defers and lets me get on with my friends, as though I wouldn't want her to be with us, as though they're not her friends as well as mine.
The first night back with friends you haven't seen in a while is about remembering the patterns that re-emerge, the jokes and the routines you use with these people and how they differ from those with others. We worked our way through the cocktail list as we drew each other in to the conversation, telling increasingly outlandish stories and trying to out do each other. Words spoken among friends are not as important as the way they are relayed, as the way that Sean will pull his mock outraged face before bursting with laughter, the way Will slightly smirks before pulling a dead pan face and then comes out with yet another outrageous comment, the way Sean will take off his watch before launching into yet another tale, waving his hands in illustration.
We ended up trying to sneak into a darkened hotel room, me ahead with my hands out in front of me like I was staring in a zombie film, and Will holding on to my belt to pull him along, banging into furniture and loudly shhing each other while Bira pretended to sleep and tried not to giggle.
The night took its toll on me; the next morning, after an hour or so sleep, Will was standing over me yelling to bring me back to the world. The shower was no help; there was only hot water for one person, and Will had helped most of that find the floor all the way out past the kitchen before mopping some of it up with Bira's t-shirt; and by the time I found myself downstairs choking down some Spanish coffee with the consistency of mud I was turning various shades of green.
"You look like crap," Will smirked, looking like an ad for a Swiss health tonic, a look he maintained all weekend until he filed his last report on Monday and then promptly passed out in a cafe over a cup of coffee.
"Shut. Up." I syllabled, slowly.
"Look, just go back to sleep, will you?" Bira stated as she bought me some water.
"No. I'll. Be. Fine."
"Seriously, get some sleep. You've got nothing planned at the track for this morning – I'll come back into town and pick you up after lunch."
"Yeah, yeah. Go on." I'd like to say that I thought about the balance between being a friend and being a boss. I'd like to say that I realised that she got the balance right, as usual. I'd like to say these things, but within two minutes I was back in bed and sound asleep.
Te digo que le gustaba; no me puedo creer que me hicieras irme.
Afronta la realidad; estaba hablando contigo sólo porque su amiga estaba hablando conmigo.
I was back at the hotel, sober and tired and happy. Walking a city is always the best way to see it, and despite thinking I wouldn't get a chance to do so I'd managed to squeeze a walk into a busy weekend, at the cost of mere sleep. I walked past yet another bar, the one that Bira and I had gone to the day before.
We'd been to a karting event put on by Bridgestone, and on the way the traffic was reduced to a 2km/h crawl that made Silverstone look like most organised circuit known to man. A few hundred metres in Bira said "just so you know, this has absolutely nothing to do with you," and began sobbing silently. It must have been the onions.
We missed out on the start of the karting race, and after hours in the cold she sat in the car and quietly fumed. At the end of it Will brought another journalist who took the death seat and offered Bira driving directions in overabundance while she glowered and sped off into the night.
"I'm going to the hotel," I told them as we stopped on the corner near a jazz bar, keeping my eye on Bira all that time.
"Oh, come on, join us!" Will demanded while Bira stared straight ahead.
"No, it's okay; I'll see you later."
"I wish someone would ask me what I want," she finally exploded, tears streaming again before suddenly pulling up to a halt and demanding "you drive!"
"You lot always expect me to be the responsible adult. I always have to look out for you – every time any of you have a problem, I try to fix it. I'm pigeon-holed as the mum. Well I'm not your mum! And what happens when I need someone to take care of me? Has anyone asked me if I want a drink tonight? Does anyone care?"
I flailed silently, uselessly, as the silence of her brooding descended on us while we circled around the hotel, looking for a parking space in a city full of double parked cars. "Maybe if I moved that road block we could park the car just here," I said, pointing at the construction barrier in front of a skip that was blocking a minute parking space right in front of our hotel.
"There's no way you could fit the car into that."
"No, I couldn't. But you could."
All elbows and shoulders behind the wheel, she conducted the car back and forth, a mantra of "excess damage waiver!" issuing forth each time she nudged the bumper in front until the car was sitting snugly inside a space that was just a couple of inches longer than the car itself.
"Nice job. I couldn't have done that."
"Thanks," she beamed. "I guess that's one thing I'm actually good at."
"How about we grab a drink in that bar across the road?"
"Yes... Thank you. That would be nice."
We sat in there for a while before Will and Sean found us from across the road. The drinks flowed; loud talk and rolling laughter ran with it. It took a while, but eventually the unhappenable happened – the owner asked us to leave, as he wanted to close the bar. We finished our drinks as the shutters were being pulled down, beaming with pride – we finally broke Barcelona.
The spectre of death didn't hang unspoken over the pits of Imola, the grey clouds didn't spread themselves ominously over the circuit like a quilt, there was no gnashing of teeth or wailing for what could have been, and people didn't spend the weekend quietly ruminating on the grim happenings of ten years ago. Racers don't look backward; Formula One doesn't look backward. And the considerations of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger were mostly taken care of in Bahrain, to allow for deadlines to be met.
Anniversaries of death become more abstract the further away they get, and eventually it is only the ones that end in zero that get acknowledged. Perhaps it's easier on the living that it should be thus, that these reminders of our own mortality get tucked away for so long and only pulled out once a decade to allow us a brief period of reflection, to take the band aid off for a minute to poke at the scar below before covering it up again.
Ten years. Ten years is long enough to allow us to be living a completely different life, and maybe when these anniversaries come around we are really looking at who we once were.
A decade ago I was living a different life on the other side of the world, a life that was already subtly changing from the one I was used to. I was changing from my youth into an adult, even though I didn't know it at the time; I had a steady girlfriend, had moved out of home, and was even starting to take the concept of work seriously. I was becoming, slowly, my father, although I didn't realise that was a good thing at the time.
Things have changed a lot since then.
This was the first race that Bira was back in the paddock since Italy last year. I was glad for the help; two heads means more ability to cover everything that happens, and as a lot of teams hold press conferences at the same time it meant that we were able to divide and conquer. And it gave me someone extra to talk to in between.
We caught the shuttle into the paddock from the main gate, past what seemed like thousands of brightly coloured team trucks; the circus was back within driving range at last. It was strange to be back in a paddock that housed the teams' motorhomes; in Australia the teams worked out of the pits themselves, in Malaysia they had small temporary structures behind the pits and in Bahrain there were grand permanent structures to house everyone, but Europe means the teams are back to working in their own environments again.
The paddock in Imola is strangely laid out; there is a huge area opening out from the electronic gate and behind the main stand, about the size of one and a half football fields, that is left empty because there is nothing to put in it, and then immediately behind the pits the area is shrunk and the teams jam their mobile homes and trucks into this tiny section. It's as though the designer actively tried to make things as awkward as possible, although in reality it's just that the area wasn't built with modern Formula One in mind.
The press room is merely a reflection of that; one tiny room with journalists using both sides of the flimsy tables to work, everyone knocking knees and elbows as they do. Imola may have history on its side, but it doesn't have anyone in the paddock cheering for it. The cramped media centre meant journalists spent more time downstairs than usual, which just made the paddock seem tighter still. At least the weather was in our favour.
On a gloriously sunny Thursday after our work was done Bira and I walked through the park along the inside of the track in Imola to see the Senna memorial, the beauty of the grounds undiminished by the temporary fences that are a fixture of any contemporary mass sporting event. I don't think that we were looking for anything of note to happen, but it was a beautiful day for a walk.
Parents were pushing their children in strollers, grandparents were taking in the air, a young kid wearing a Nirvana t-shirt ran past kicking a ball with his friends. The brown, ungainly statue marks a spot across the track from where the accident occurred, and was surrounded by a collection of drying, patchy flowers. We would have stopped for longer except that a Japanese woman, talking either to herself or Ayrton and sobbing quietly, looked to need the space to herself more than we did. We left without a word spoken.
I've never been a person to have heroes; I know that a lot of people have those that they look up to and admire, those who by their actions stand out from the rest and provide examples of what we could all be, but for me I've never felt the need for this process.
Except for two people: Kurt Cobain and Ayrton Senna.
These two men were remarkably different in almost every respect, other than their flaws. Everybody has flaws, and this is what joins them to everybody else in the human race. And perhaps because of their flaws I saw more to admire in their achievements, something that allowed me to feel that if they could get past their own demons and achieve what they had, then perhaps there was hope that one day I could live out my own dreams.
Ayrton was everything that I felt I wasn't; he was driven to perfection, to achieve and achieve, and through sheer determination and self belief he found a way to get to the top of his chosen field and mold it to his will, to claim the ultimate accolades and to search for more. I could never understand the motivations that drove him, but his resolve was something I could admire and aspire to.
When I was young I used to be a fan of Nelson Piquet; I'm not entirely sure why now, but I suspect it had something to do with him winning, and doing so with flair. This lasted until the young Ayrton Senna came onto the scene, and something about his abilities and personality instantly clicked with me; I switched allegiances.
This was around the same time as I started watching races with my friend Eyman, who was a fan of Gerhard Berger. Being fans of different drivers made watching the races much more fun for us both, although probably more so for me as my driver won more often. It certainly led to some amusing arguments, usually settled when I asked ‘so who won again?'
This process just ran and ran. Every other Sunday Eyman would come around to my house and we argued about how the race would run, what the qualifying grid meant and how each of our drivers was clearly going to do better because of the track. And then Senna generally took the lead and ran away from everyone else.
Eyman obviously learnt something from those days, because he later switched allegiances to Michael Schumacher, which has given him more to cheer about since then.
Kurt was a different kettle of fish altogether. The first time I heard of him I was listening to the alternative radio station Triple J and this strangely muted song came on, with a lyric claiming ‘I'm so happy cause today I found my friends / they're in my head' before a sonic blast of a chorus made up of the word ‘yeah' screamed over and over, loud enough to peel wallpaper.
Before the song finished, I was hooked.
The announcer noted that the band was Nirvana, that the song was from their forthcoming album, and that they were going to tour Australia soon. I rang up a friend I had seen a few bands with and told him we had to buy tickets, and when he replied that he had never heard of the band I reminded him that I had tried to convince him to see another band the year before that he had never heard of – R.E.M.
When we walked out of the venue, our ears ringing, wringing with sweat and grinning like fools, he said ‘thank you' and hugged me, an action that never happened before or since, and meant more for that fact.
Kurt was the anti-Ayrton. Whereas Ayrton wanted the validity of continual success, Kurt actively tried to crush his own career. Ayrton was supremely fit; Kurt was a junkie with chronic stomach pain all his adult life. Ayrton was charisma; Kurt was anti-charismatic. Ayrton's self belief was evident every time he spoke; Kurt spoke for a disenfranchised generation that didn't know how to verbalise its pain.
Kurt and Ayrton were the ying and yang of my young Gemini life.
BAR are holding a competition over a number of races called Pitstop 4 Real, where the journalists have to form into national teams and, under instruction from the mechanics, change the three tyres from a rolling stop on the current car. It may be just a promotional effort to get their brand out before the public, but it's also a brilliant idea and I couldn't wait to be a part of it.
It was pretty unlikely that I was going to form an Australian team; I'd have been slightly overworked, for a start; so I joined the Italians and was told that my heat would be in Imola. Unfortunately it was against the second string British team, the old guard that the young guys didn't want slowing them up, and they didn't have enough members so I was thrown in with all the old fellows who were mostly there for the drinks after.
BAR made us all put on team shirts and hats for the photo opportunities before sending a stern South African mechanic over to give us instructions. He started talking, and one of the Italian team was translating for the rest of his companions until he was told “and you'll shut up right now”, which focused everybody's attention.
The person who was to be on the wheel gun had to be strong, we were told; it vibrates a lot, and it would be very easy to break a wrist from the force of the machine. Everybody seemed to lean back and look around at that, and after he finished talking we all fought over who would be the guy who puts the new tyre on. Being skinny has its advantages; I got to put the wheel on, and Garry Emmerson got the gun.
Bizarrely they gave us one of the actual cars that were racing that weekend rather than a dummy car; were it up to me I wouldn't have let a bunch of smelly journalists within 100 metres of my cars, apart from myself of course. Each corner had three journalists covering it; gun, wheel off, wheel on, gun; plus a mechanic to make sure we didn't do too much damage, and then they gave us two still run throughs before two moving ones which were for the competition.
Each time the head mechanic held the lollipop down and said something like “Jenson is two seconds behind Michael – go” and then put us to work. It's amazing how much tension is built up in those few seconds; no one wants to be the one the others are waiting for, everyone wants to be first to get their hand on top of the tyre, and even though there was no race the pressure would ramp up just before we were released to work.
After the first static run through our mechanic came over from the front wheel, showed us the nut that had been stripped through incorrect use of gun, and said "well, there goes 700 quid" before tossing it in the bin. Which only ramped the pressure up a little more.
All in all it was quite educational; I learnt that there is no room at all between the brake casing and the wheel rim at the back of the wheel for fingers, that the tyres are heavier than you'd think after you've lifted them up and down a number of times, that as a mechanic I make a damn fine writer, and that a team of Italians with girls will beat a bunch of decrepit Englishmen and a ringer every time they come together in competition.
Still, I was given a nice pair of driving gloves afterwards by the event sponsor, so I'll take that as the team suggesting I should look into driving the cars.
We stayed in Bologna, partly because it's a simply amazing city to see but mostly because it's not far away on the autostrada and the hotels in Imola are block booked by the teams about a year in advance. This gave us the advantage of having access to a number of fine restaurants, and we had been looking forward to devouring a fiorentine steak for about a week.
Driving back into town as the sun set we were anxious to return to a restaurant we had visited last year, which had the best steak either of us had ever tasted. But as we were driving around the ring road surrounding the heart of Bologna a fierce wind tore up, creating a duststorm that was actually moving the car around. Thankfully it softened as we found a parking spot and walked to the restaurant, but unfortunately we were still a little early as it wasn't yet open.
I decided we should find a cafe and have a coffee. It wasn't one of my greatest ideas in retrospect, given that as we walked across the large piazza toward a cafe the heavens opened and we were deluged in a storm of almost biblical proportions. It felt like walking through an ocean on a diet. In the twenty metres or so that we had to walk, we were both soaked to the skin; the guy behind the counter was already pulling out reams of paper towels before we fell through the door.
And then, of course, the restaurant was booked solid when we finally got back there. I had the Nick Cave song 'God is in the House' stuck in my head all evening. I'm sure he laughed, especially when He guided us to the empty trattoria around the corner.
Time throbbed. There wasn't a lot to do after the race; we'd been very busy all weekend, seemingly more than I had been when I went to the races without Bira, and with the race itself going as usual it allowed us to make a reasonably early departure. I had even considered the possibility of getting home as the sun set, a feat I had never been close to achieving.
The tourism department for Emilia Romagna obviously had other ideas.
The local police blocked off the usual route back to the autostrada, directing the stream down a small side street. It made little sense, as the road they blocked off had two lanes, but we figured they knew what they were doing. The traffic built up and up; sitting in a traffic jam is never fun; but when we eventually saw the autostrada we thought we were on the way home at last. Until the road went over a bridge and into the countryside.
It's more than likely that Imola won't be hosting a Grand Prix again, which would vastly reduce the number of tourists the region gets. So clearly our hosts decided to give us a small tour before we left for good. The diversions ran for about sixty kilometers, traffic banked up almost all of the way, and we were eventually forced to stop in the middle of nowhere to get petrol just to keep going on this ridiculous journey. It was either a tourism promotion from hell, or complete spite for taking the race away from them.
From a track that is usually 10 minutes away from the freeway, it took us four hours and a lot of scenery to get onto the main road. The sun well and truly set while we were driving on one of the endless country roads.
All it did was give me time to think. Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts, and some of them die when they get there. Kurt Cobain's death wasn't a complete surprise when it happened. By 1994 the heroin that he started taking to alleviate his stomach pain had taken him over, the adulation of millions was a burden too large for his tender frame, and after a practice run at topping himself in Rome I woke up on April 8 to hear that he had killed himself with a shot gun.
A month later, twenty points down in the championship and in a car that was unable to find its head with the removal of the electronic driver aids he had fought to lose from the sport before arriving at his new team, Ayrton Senna fell out of the lead of the third race of the season with the championship leader Michael Schumacher immediately behind him, struck an unprotected wall head on, and died shortly after.
Both times I was at my girlfriend's house, both times I turned away from her comforting arms, both times I didn't know what to believe, or how. It was a month too far, a month that killed off the concept of heroes for me, a month that was going to remind me of myself for ever.
Both men had their faults; Kurt was a drug addict, was unable or unwilling to listen to those who loved him when they wanted to help him, took himself away from us in a monumental act of spite when he pulled that trigger. Ayrton was too competitive, took too many risks with those around him on track, collided his way into a championship rather than risk losing it in front of millions.
But Kurt gave a new language to his fans, a voice in the dark that spoke to their hearts, he drove the dinosaurs, racists and sexists in rock music back under the skirting boards of existence, he gave hope to every geek in their bedroom that was different to those around them that they could make their voice heard. Ayrton won three World Championships through pure self belief, carried a less than ideal car around and won when he shouldn't have, created a foundation that has made life more bearable for millions of poverty stricken children in his native Brazil.
Heroes may be flawed, but so are most gemstones. And sometimes they shine all the brighter despite that.