FIA Director of Formula One, Charlie Whiting, has sadly passed away this morning (14 March 2019), in Melbourne, aged 66, as the result of a pulmonary embolism, three days before the Australian Grand Prix which will open the F1 season. He began his F1 career in 1977 working at the Hesketh team, then in the 1980s at Brabham. He has been an integral part of the organisation of the FIA Formula One World Championship since he joined the Federation in 1988, and has been the Race Director since 1997.
FIA President Jean Todt said: “It is with immense sadness that I learned of Charlie’s sudden passing. 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. Formula 1 has lost a faithful friend and a charismatic ambassador in Charlie. All my thoughts, those of the FIA and entire motor sport community go out to his family, friends, and all Formula One lovers.”
Whiting began his Formula One in 1977 when he joined the Hesketh team as a mechanic. The team, which had brought James Hunt to worldwide recognition, was in a parlous state when Whiting joined and when it closed at the end of the season, he moved to Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham squad the following year.
Whiting stayed with the team for the next decade, working on the cars of Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet before rising to the position of chief mechanic during the period it twice took Piquet to Drivers’ Championship glory, in 1981 and 1983.
He left Brabham at the end of the 1987 season, when Ecclestone sold the team. At Ecclestone’s suggestion Whiting joined the FIA’s technical department in 1988, initially working under then technical delegate Gabriel Cadringher before becoming technical delegate in 1990. Later in the decade he took on the race starter role he is perhaps most publicly well known for, assumed the position of safety delegate and took on responsibility for circuits.
In 1997 he was appointed Formula One Race Director and in the more two decades that followed steered the running of 400 grands prix.
Following his sudden passes tributes to Whiting have flowed in from teams and drivers across Formula One.
Formula 1’s Managing Director, Motorsport Ross Brawn a former technical director at Ferrari and a former team boss at Brawn and Mercedes, said: "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.
“I was filled with immense sadness when I heard the tragic news. I'm devastated. It is a great loss not only for me personally but also the entire Formula 1 family, the FIA and motorsport as a whole. All our thoughts go out to his family."
Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner said: Charlie has played a key role in this sport and has been the referee and voice of reason as Race Director for many years. 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. On behalf of everyone at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing we pass on our sincere condolences to his family and friends. Charlie was a great man who will be sadly missed by the entire Formula 1 paddock and the wider motorsport community.”
Five-time FIA Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton said he was "incredibly shocked to hear the sad news.
“What he did for this sport, I mean, his commitment… he really was a pillar, an iconic figure in the sporting world and he contributed so much for us. May he rest in peace,” said the Mercedes driver.
Ferrari's four-time champion Sebastian Vettel said: “I was shocked when I head the news this morning, especially because I spoke to him yesterday and walked the track for the first couple of corners together with him. I’ve known him for a long time and he’s been our man, the driver’s man. Obviously there are regulations and then there is us and he was the middleman. He was someone you could ask anything of, anytime. His door was always open. He was a racer and just a very nice guy. Shocked. I think all our thoughts, of the whole family of Formula One, are with him and especially with his family in these difficult circumstances.”
Williams driver Robert Kubica, who is returning to the sport this year after an eight-year absence added: "It is a hard moment. I saw Seb walking with Charlie yesterday and thought I would not interrupt them because I would see him on Friday at the Drivers’ Briefing. Unfortunately this will not be the case. It’s very sad. He was kind of an icon of Formula One. He was a racer, but also keeping up everything in the regulations. He was really the kind of a person you could always trust and commit.”
Red Bull's Max Verstappen said: "It was a big shock, also because I spent the day with him in Geneva a few weeks ago [at the FIA Stewards’ Seminar] and we had a good chat, just about a lot of things. When I left at the time, I was like ‘see you in Australia for another season of racing’ and when you hear this news it‘s just unbelievable.”
Verstappen’s former Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, now with Renault, added that Whiting had always been on the drivers’ side.
"He was there for us, and we gave him a hard time. We would really press him and push him and make him work, but he was always really receptive and you always felt like he was on our side,” he said. “I guess we were like a broken record with a lot of the things we would complain about but he never shut it down. He was always ‘ears open’. I think he did a lot for the sport. “We'll all race with a lot of passion this weekend and it's just a reminder we are all very lucky to be in this position."
The McLaren team Tweeted that Whiting would be “remembered as one of the giants of our sport, as well as a great colleague. Our deepest sympathies and thoughts are with all of his loved ones”, while 2016 FIA Formula One World Champion Nico Robserg said: “he cared so much for us drivers, for our safety and for trying to keep things fair out on track. My thoughts are especially with you, Mrs Whiting and your children.”
The 1978 World Champion Mario Andretti also paid tribute to Whiting saying: Charlie was a true Giant in our sport and very possibly irreplaceable. Sincere condolences to his family and everyone who appreciated this man. RIP my friend.”