FILE PHOTO: FIA Formula One Race Director Charlie Whiting speaks during a press briefing regarding Japanese Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom circuit on October 10, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Formula One race director Charlie Whiting, a popular and key figure in the sport, has died three days before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, the governing FIA said in a statement on Thursday. He was 66.
The Briton, who started his career working for the Hesketh team in 1977, died in Melbourne of a pulmonary embolism, it said.
“It is with immense sadness that I learned of Charlie’s sudden passing,” said Jean Todt, president of the International Automobile Federation.
“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.”
Whiting, who worked for Brabham with the sport’s former commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone in the 1980s, joined the FIA in 1988. He had been race director since 1997.
The news was met with shock in the Formula One paddock where Whiting was close to drivers, with whom he conducted pre-race briefings, and teams who sought technical guidance and clarifications.
Former champions McLaren said they were “shocked and deeply saddened.
“Charlie will 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,” the team said on Twitter.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Peter Rutherford