MELBOURNE • The Formula One world expressed its shock and grief yesterday following the death of race director Charlie Whiting, casting a pall over the paddock just three days before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) said in a statement that the Briton, a popular and key figure in the sport, had died in Melbourne of a pulmonary embolism. He was 66.
"It is with immense sadness that I learnt of Charlie's sudden passing," said FIA president Jean Todt.
"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 One has lost a faithful friend and a charismatic ambassador in Charlie."
Australian Michael Masi, a former deputy race director of the local V8 Supercars series who served as a steward at Formula One and Formula E, will replace Whiting for the Melbourne weekend.
Whiting, who had been race director since 1997, started out with now-defunct British outfit Hesketh in 1977 before crossing to Brabham to work with the sport's former commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone in the 1980s.
A poacher turned gamekeeper, with a ready grin and self-deprecating sense of humour, he joined the FIA as a technical delegate in 1988. Inside the paddock, he was known simply as Charlie - the go-to man for teams, drivers and media.
At the FIA, Whiting was a driving force in pushing improved safety and played a key role in the introduction of the halo, the ring-like barrier fitted over drivers' heads to protect them from heavy impacts.
From enforcing bewildering technical regulations to solving driver disputes, ensuring track safety and smoothly handling the labyrinth of Formula One's high-tech race systems, Whiting was responsible for the logistics of each grand prix.
He had been in the Melbourne paddock on Wednesday to oversee this weekend's race, but died yesterday morning.
A MISSED MAN
What he did for this sport, I mean, his commitment... he really was a pillar.
LEWIS HAMILTON, Mercedes' five-time world champion.
Difficult to grasp when somebody is just not there any more. He's... been our man, the driver's man.
SEBASTIAN VETTEL, Ferrari driver.
Charlie's immense knowledge of the sport, integrity and dedication to his work is irreplaceable and he will be dearly missed.
COLIN SYN, Singapore Grand Prix deputy chairman.
His sudden death hit especially hard in the paddock. "What he did for this sport, I mean, his commitment... he really was a pillar," five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton told reporters.
Toto Wolff described Whiting as a "guardian of the sport's best interests". "He was balanced in his approach, subtle in his understanding and always with the interests of F1 as his main focus," the Mercedes team principal said.
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel could not believe the news as he met Whiting only on Wednesday. "I spoke to him yesterday and walked the track for the first couple of corners together with him," he said.
"Difficult to grasp when somebody is just not there any more. He's sort of been our man, the driver's man. Obviously there are regulations and all that and then there is us and he was the middleman. He was someone you could ask anything of, any time."
Ross Brawn, F1 managing director, said he was "devastated" to lose a friend and colleague.
"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 in a statement.
Red Bull chief Christian Horner added that Whiting's death would leave "a huge void in our sport".
Closer to home, Colin Syn, deputy chairman of the Singapore Grand Prix, also paid his tributes.
"We are deeply saddened at the news of Charlie Whiting's passing. Charlie was instrumental in the success of the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix from the very beginning," a press statement read.
"He truly understood the importance and challenges of night racing and was incredibly supportive in getting the event off the ground.
"Charlie's immense knowledge of the sport, integrity and dedication to his work is irreplaceable and he will be dearly missed. Our thoughts are with Charlie's family and friends during this difficult time."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS