From that point on, life was a blur for the next few days. “I remember where I was the first time I saw it on TV,” he says. “It was the Sunday after and I was back at my sister’s house in Lincolnshire. I thought ‘f***** hell’. And on Monday the phone did not stop ringing. Imagine what it would be like today with all the social media channels.”
From his perspective now, Dumbreck realises he must have been in deep shock. But he hadn’t even been taken to hospital: the Mercedes team doctor released him after a cursory check-up. So how did it affect him?
“It was an odd time in life,” he says, “One of those testers. I didn’t ever think I should stop. It was almost the opposite. I went through a weird feeling on invincibility.
“At the time I was still fairly young: not married, no kids. You are willing to take more risks in life anyway – and I took a lot of risks. I did whatever the hell I wanted, and got away with it.”
After Le Mans, Dumbreck returned to Japan where he had racing commitments. Out of the limelight once again, he admits he lived on the edge – and not just on the race tracks.
“It did change me,” he says. “It had a mental affect on me for a few months. I did cringeworthy stuff, and generally all in Japan. I remember touch-and-go moments where I thought ‘I’m going to have another massive shunt here’, but got away with it. On the road, too…”
Now married with children and still in the midst of a successful professional career, Dumbreck compares it to an extended adrenaline rush that eventually wore off after a few months. And unlike Webber, he drove for Mercedes again.
“They say there’s no such thing as bad PR… I suppose it made me infamous,” he says. “I didn’t have too much to do with it, I was just the passenger.
“Mark and I took different things away from it. I read his book last summer and it was the first time I’d heard his side. My feeling after it was ‘well, I’m still here. So let’s make the most out of it’. When it came to a contract renewal I was offered one for DTM when they were hard-fought-over seats. Maybe I wouldn’t have been without the accident.”
As for Mercedes, no one in the team hierarchy lost their job after Le Mans – perhaps because, through some miracle, no one had lost their life. But it remains a dark chapter in Merc’s history, one most at the company would prefer to forget.
In between 1955 and ’99, Mercedes had won the great race, in partnership with Sauber towards the end of the Group C days in 1989. But it’s fair to speculate, after the events of 20 years ago, that the Silver Arrows will never be seen at the Le Mans 24 Hours again.