MELBOURNE, Australia – Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel led Formula One drivers in paying tribute to race director Charlie Whiting, who died on Thursday morning aged 66.
The Federation International de l’Automobile’s F1 director suffered a pulmonary embolism three days before the inaugural race of the 2019 season in Melbourne, Formula One said in a statement.
At a drivers’ press conference at the circuit at Albert Lake Park, Hamilton and Vettel paid tribute to Whiting, who was responsible for driver safety and rule enforcement.
“I’ve known Charlie since I started in 2007,” Hamilton said. “Obviously incredibly shocked this morning to hear the sad news. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. What he did for the sport, his commitment, he really was a pillar… Such an iconic figure within the sporting world, and he contributed so much to us. May he rest in peace.”
Vettel, who is again expected to be leading the pack chasing reigning world champion Hamilton, said he was still in shock following the news.
“I was as shocked as we all are, still now, when I heard the news this morning, especially because I spoke to him yesterday and walked the track for the first couple of corners together with him. It’s difficult to grasp when somebody’s just not there anymore,” the Ferrari driver said.
“I’ve known him for a long time and he was sort of our man, our drivers’ man. Obviously there’s regulations and all that and then there’s us and he was the middle man. He was someone you could ask anything, at any time. He was open to everyone, any time his door was always open.
“All our thoughts are with him and especially his family in these difficult circumstances.”
Whiting, who began his F1 career in 1977, had been Formula One’s race director since 1997.
“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,” FIA President Jean Todt said in a statement.
“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 1 lovers.”