Charlie Whiting, Formula One Race Director, Is Dead at 66
Charlie Whiting, the Formula One race director of the F.I.A. who had been part of the sport for decades, died on Thursday in Melbourne, Australia. He was 66.
The International Automobile Fédération, the sport’s governing body, said in a statement that Whiting “passed away as the result of a pulmonary embolism” just days away from the first race of the season in Australia on Sunday.
“I’ve known Charlie since I started in 2007,” said Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, the five-time drivers’ champion. “What he did for this sport, his commitment, he really was a pillar, such an iconic figure, and he contributed so much for us.”
Racing was Whiting’s lifeblood. From a young age, he assisted his older brother, Nick, to prepare cars he raced at Brands Hatch, an English racetrack, which was close to the family home in West Kingsdown.
Whiting pursued his ambition of becoming a Formula One mechanic. In 1977, he joined the Hesketh Racing team. The job was short-lived as the team folded during the 1978 season.
Whiting soon joined Brabham. The team was run by Bernie Ecclestone, who controlled the commercial side of Formula One for more than 40 years. Whiting eventually became chief mechanic, helping Nelson Piquet win the drivers’ championship in 1981 and 1983.
Shortly before Ecclestone sold Brabham, Whiting left. He joined the International Automobile Fédération, known as the F.I.A., in 1988 as the technical delegate. His primary role was to scrutineer the cars to ensure that they complied with the regulations.
In 1997, Whiting was appointed race director and safety delegate. He became responsible for guaranteeing that all circuits and cars complied with the continual improvements made over the years with safety.
Whiting helped oversee the introduction of devices into Formula One such as HANS, (head and neck support), that was mandated from 2003, and the halo, a head-protection system that curves around the cockpit of a car. It was introduced at the start of last season.
At the F.I.A., he also became the permanent starter for all grands prix and head of the Formula One technical department.
Whiting was very popular. While authoritative, he was always calm. His was a voice of reason in a Formula One world that can often be arbitrary. He stepped in when the teams or drivers had a dispute.
“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,” said Jean Todt, F.I.A. president. “Formula One has lost a faithful friend and a charismatic ambassador in Charlie.”
Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, a four-time champion, said at the drivers’ news conference on Thursday that he walked the first two corners of the Melbourne circuit with Whiting on Wednesday. “Difficult to grasp when somebody is just not there anymore,” he said.
“I’ve known him for a long time, and he’s been our man, the driver’s man. He was someone you could ask anything of, anytime. His door was always open. He was a racer. He was just a very nice guy.”
For the race in Melbourne, Whiting will be replaced by Michael Masi of Australia, who had been deputy race director of the V8 Supercars series and is a steward at Formula One and Formula E.
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