Nigel Mansell turned 60 years old last week.
There was a time when the idea of any F1 driver making it to 60 seemed a pretty unlikely concept. They were guys who lived hard and fast, tiptoed on the edge and all too often died young, be that at the wheel of a racing car, flying an aeroplane, you name it.
But Nigel’s generation suffered less than those who went before them. Of the 24 men who were on the grid when Nigel made his F1 debut in Austria in 1980, only three are dead.
Two died at the wheels of racing cars and one racing a powerboat. Several hobble pretty badly and one is just incredibly lucky. Whenever I think about racing drivers being lucky souls, I always think of Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jarier, known in his day as 'Jumper'.
He is remembered as being one of the unluckiest men to ever drive in F1 with his cars failing him several times when he seemed to be en route to a victory. In the end he competed in 134 grands prix between 1971 and 1983 and failed to win a single one.
Once he was the least successful F1 driver of all time, but fate took note of Jarier's on-track misfortunes and paid him back in full one day when he was piloting a Hughes 500 helicopter across the south-west of France in December 1994.
The engine stopped and Jarier plummeted into a maize field, with wreckage being strewn over a large area. It was not widely reported but my local paper at the time - Le Republicain de Marmande – provided a very colourful report.
The crash was witnessed by Nicola Chateauneuf, who was driving the local school bus.
“I ran towards the helicopter which was in a cloud of smoke, and I saw small flames coming out of the tail. I thought it was going to explode so I held back,” she reported. “A man got out, took out two suitcases and walked towards me.
"He said he had pain in his head and there was blood running down his face. I told him to wait for the emergency services to arrive, but he kept asking me to take him to the nearest doctor. He kept on insisting and in the end I gave in."
Jarier put his two suitcases aboard the school bus and Madame Chateauneuf drove him to the local doctor. Throughout the journey Jarier stared out of the window and repeated over and over "Faster, faster!"
"If I had known he was a former racing driver," Madame Chateauneuf said later, "I would have told him that a school bus is not a racing car!"
Jarier had three stitches for a small head wound but was otherwise unhurt and later that day continued his journey by aeroplane.
Whenever anyone asks me why racing drivers are different from everybody else, I tell them that story.
Now 67, Jumper is still going strong. After the crash he tried his hand as stuntman, crashing cars for the silver screen. Among his credits is a small film starring Robert de Niro, called Ronin…