06/10/2013 03:44 EDT | Updated 08/10/2013 05:12 EDT

F1 was like a 'religion' to volunteer killed at Canadian Grand Prix: friend

MONTREAL - The volunteer marshal killed at the Canadian Grand Prix was a Formula One "fanatic" who died serving the sport he loved.

Mark Robinson was crushed by a crane on Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve following the Sunday race. The 38-year-old Montrealer, who gave his free time to the annual event every year over the last decade, was pronounced dead in hospital a couple of hours later.

One of Robinson's childhood friends told The Canadian Press that his pal watched every possible F1 race on TV — even at all hours of the night — and taped any event he couldn't watch live.

He would even re-watch the events in English and French to compare the sportscasters' commentary.

Marty Devey said the sport had long been a big part of Robinson's life, a passion that soared to new heights when Canadian driver Jacques Villeneuve starred in F1 in the mid-to-late 1990s.

"F1 for him was kind of like getting a chance to be a roadie for the Rolling Stones once a year," Devey said about Robinson, whom he had known since they were teenagers growing up in the Laurentians, north of Montreal.

"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."

Devey, who also lived with Robinson for three years, said his friend kept every bib and piece of memorabilia he collected from working at past races. He said he always looked forward to reuniting with other annual volunteers at the track.

"You'd think that he was a child in a candy store," he said of Robinson's annual endeavour.

"F1 is his religion. He's a complete fanatic for not missing any race."

Devey said Robinson was single and didn't have any children, but that he had become an uncle for the first time a few months ago.

He worked in logistics for UPS, his friend added, and had an encyclopedic knowledge of trivia — from sports, to 1970s and '80s rock and roll, to science-fiction flicks.

Robinson, known as "Coach" to his buddies, would have been turning 39 on Wednesday.

His friends, Devey said, had been planning to celebrate his birthday with him during their weekly beer-league softball game, as they had year after year.

Devey said practically no one in their tight group of friends liked F1, except Robinson. That didn't stop him, however, from trying to convert the others by talking up the sport's speed, cutting-edge technology and the athleticism needed by drivers to pilot the powerful cars.

Officials have said that Robinson dropped his radio and tripped as he tried to pick it up — a tumble that put him in the path of a crane's wheel. He was escorting the crane at the end of the Canadian Grand Prix as it moved a Sauber F1 car, which had not finished the Montreal race.

Quebec's workplace safety board said Monday it had launched an investigation into the accident that could take up to six months.

F1 car-racing officials have expressed their condolences since the incident.

"This tragedy has affected us deeply, and the whole of motor sport is profoundly touched by it," Jean Todt, president of the FIA world body, said Monday in a statement.

"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's death also drew words of sympathy from the stars of his beloved sport.

"There is nothing to celebrate today," Ferrari's Fernando Alonso tweeted Sunday in Spanish, in a message he later repeated in English.

"Terrible news with the death of a marshal (in) this race. Very sad. R.I.P."

McLaren Mercedes' Jenson Button directed a message at Robinson, personally: "Shocked & 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."

Devey was touched by the outpouring.

"Mark would be extremely proud of being mentioned by these guys that he idolized," he said.

"It's a beautiful thing that they're taking the time to write that kind of stuff."