Formula one stalwart, race director Charlie Whiting has died on the eve of the opening race of the season at the Melbourne Grand Prix.
Whiting, whose ability to calm drivers and solve on-track problems, suffered a pulmonary embolism on Thursday morning in Melbourne aged 66.
The Englishman adjudicated on track conditions and race incidents and was most often in the public eye when his name was invoked by frustrated drivers over race radio.
He was also a driving force for improvements in driver safety, including the cockpit halo that has already proven its worth in preventing serious injury or death.
FIA president Jean Todt said F1 had lost “a faithful friend and a charismatic ambassador”.
“I have known Charlie Whiting for many years and he has been a great race director, a central and inimitable figure in Formula One who embodied the ethics and spirit of this fantastic sport,” Todt said in a statement.
Whiting began his 42-year motor sport association in 1977 with Hesketh Racing, becoming the chief mechanic at Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team during Nelson Piquet’s championship winning seasons in 1981 and 1983.
Whiting joined the governing body soon after and rose to become race director, to oversee the sport’s many rules and technical regulations.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said Whiting was one of the sport’s most hard-working ambassadors.
“Charlie has played a key role in this sport and has been the referee and voice of reason as race director for many years,” Horner said.
“He was a man with great integrity who performed a difficult role in a balanced way. At heart, he was a racer with his origins stretching back to his time at Hesketh and the early days of Brabham.
Whiting had been tipped to consider retirement in the near future.
Ross Brawn, F1 Motorsports managing director, echoed the mood of many in the sport when he said he was “devastated”.
“I have known Charlie for all of my racing life. We worked as mechanics together, became friends and spent so much time together at race tracks across the world,” he said.
I was filled with immense sadness when I heard the tragic news.
“It is a great loss not only for me personally but also the entire Formula 1 family, the FIA and motorsport as a whole.”
Whiting’s calm demeanour when dealing with drivers in pre and post race meetings was highly respected, although at times drivers have criticised his rulings in the middle on on-track battles.
Drivers were often heard asking their teams “Did Charlie see that?”, seeking rulings on race regulations.
In 2016, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel caused consternation on track when he directed an expletive to the respected Whiting while scrapping with the Red Bull cars of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
Vettel apologised immediately after the race and Whiting accepted the contrition in good grace, telling ESPN that in racing “things happen in the heat of the moment”.