FIA Director of Formula 1 Charlie Whiting sadly passed away this morning 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 organization of the FIA Formula 1 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 1 lovers.”
Ross Brawn, Managing Director, Motorsports, Formula 1 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.”
‘HE WAS A PILLAR OF F1’ – DRIVERS LEAD TRIBUTES TO CHARLIE WHITING
Formula 1 was in mourning ahead of the 2019 Australian Grand Prix following the news that Charlie Whiting, the FIA’s F1 Race Director, had passed away in Melbourne. The drivers whose safety Whiting was responsible for weekend in, weekend out were quick to pay tribute to the great man – here’s what they, and a number of other key figures in the F1 paddock, had to say.
“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. 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. He was a racer, he was just a very nice guy… The whole paddock, the whole circus, the whole family of Formula 1, all our thoughts are with him and especially his family in these difficult circumstances.”
“I’ve known Charlie since I started in 2007… 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.”
“It’s a hard moment. I saw Sebastian walking with Charlie yesterday and I thought I would not interrupt them because I was going to see him on Friday in the drivers’ briefing. Unfortunately that will not be the case. It’s very sad. He was a kind of icon of Formula 1 but not only Formula 1. He was… a racer, also keeping up everything in the regulations. He was really the kind of person you could always trust and commit, so it’s a very sad moment. My thoughts are with his family.”
“Of course it was a big shock, especially because I spent the day with him in Geneva a few weeks ago and we had a good chat, just about a lot of things. When I left I said see you in Australia for another season of racing and of course when you hear this news, it’s unbelievable. Just 66 years old, so I guess we just have to appreciate every day and every morning you wake up, and that you enjoy life and that it’s not only about Formula 1 but about a lot of other things in life – this is just one part of it. I think at the moment, what is the most important is that thoughts are going to family and friends and close ones.”
“It’s not the nicest news to walk into. Just taken aback by it, for sure. He was there for us. 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. Like a broken record, a lot of things we would probably complain about and he never really shut it down. He was open and did a lot for the sport. We’ll have some, obviously, very, very nice and positive memories about him. I remember my first Aussie GP in 2012, going up with Franz [Tost] and they said go and introduce yourself to Charlie, it’s the start of the new season, go and start the relationship on a good note. Time goes fast, but as Max touched on, it’s important to appreciate each moment. You do take it for granted. I’m sure we’ll all race with a lot of passion this weekend, and it’s just a reminder as well that we’re very lucky to be in this position.”
“It was fantastic [to work with Charlie]. He was such a good guy. It’s very rare in this sport to meet such a peaceful guy, lovely guy, close friend. I have nothing bad to say about him, to be honest. Nothing. It’s only good things. All my thoughts go to his family. We travelled the world together for many years, he did more than I did obviously, but it’s sad, you know? Someone like him, it’s going to be impossible to find a replacement for him. He’s one of those key players in the sport. He had such a relationship with all the drivers, with all the team principals, so it’s going to be hard to replace him. I wish his family all my best. I heard he actually had some plans to go to Mexico with his family, his next holiday was going to be in Mexico, I saw him yesterday. Everyone is shocked, very sad with this news. But at the same time, I’m sure that if Charlie was here he will love… to see us racing, have a good show on Sunday, that will make him happy. But definitely all my thoughts are with his beautiful family.”
“Very sad and surreal news ahead the Australian GP. Can’t believe it. My thoughts are with the family and friends. He’s done so much for the sport we love. Rest in peace Charlie.”
“He was very supportive of the drivers, he was our way, our interface to speak, to get our opinions. [I’ve done] 145 Grands Prix so 145 briefings with him. And then sometimes in the stewards’ room as well. He will be greatly missed.”
“Just arrived in Melbourne to the terrible news about the passing of Charlie Whiting. Charlie was one of the best and most respected figures in F1, and above all a great person. It’s a great loss for our sport. He will be deeply missed! All my thoughts are with his family.”
“Horrible news from Melbourne. All my thoughts goes to Charlie's family. The motorsport world will miss you. R.I.P.”
“I remember my rookie year he spent a lot of time with me. I remember him as an extremely… attentive [person]. Really wanting to listen to my opinion, and it shocked me, because I was a rookie and I thought my opinion didn’t count much when I arrived to Formula 1, but he gave me the opportunity to immediately [be listened to] and even if I was 20 years old and I had done three races in F1, he came to me, talked to me, what do you think, what would you do better. He was very open, open to young drivers. I remember my first year being particularly aggressive and he was not coming to me to tell me to calm down – he was saying I think it’s great what you are doing to Formula 1, both Max and you are showing new kind of standards of driving a bit more aggressively and raising some questions with moving under braking. He didn’t tell me to stop, he just told me, 'Just be careful, you’re great for F1, keep doing it that way as everyone is enjoying seeing you guys battle and I enjoyed it a lot'. He was that kind of guy, was very open, open for a chat. In my first year of F1, that shocked me quite a lot. When I heard the news today I was devastated as he’s one of those guys that I’ve always enjoyed chatting to. I’ve spent the winter sharing emails with him on how to improve the sports, do more meetings with stewards, organize ourselves to join stewards and drivers in a more productive way.”
“It’s very sad news that just came out of nowhere really. Personally I knew him well. We had some really nice conversations. He was always really nice and fair to me. We discussed many episodes that happened to me on the track, person to person, and we also sometimes had a cup of tea outside the track, even maybe after some races to discuss some things about the general sport, he asked some opinions of mine… He will be very much missed, but he left a very big mark on our lives as drivers, and a mark in the sport in general.”
Toto Wolff, Mercedes Team Principal
“I was shocked and saddened to hear the news of Charlie's passing this morning. He was a pillar of our Formula One family – balanced in his approach, subtle in his understanding and always with the interests of Formula One as his main focus. Charlie was a fantastic ambassador for our sport and a true guardian of its best interests; all of us who were lucky enough to know him will miss his ready smile and gentle humour. On behalf of the entire Mercedes motorsport family, I send our deepest sympathies to Charlie’s family and friends.”
Mattia Binotto, Ferrari Team Principal
“Charlie was a true professional and extremely knowledgeable. But more than that, he was a wonderful person, who always treated everyone with respect. A tireless and enlightened motorsport expert, he helped make F1 safer and better. He was a pillar of Formula 1. Our sport is diminished by his passing and we have lost a friend. He will be greatly missed.”
Toyoharu Tanabe, Honda F1 Technical Director
“I want to express our deep sadness and shock at the news of Charlie’s sudden passing. It’s hard to believe he will not be with us this weekend, as he was such an integral part of Formula 1 for so many decades. He performed his role in a diligent and fair manner and he really loved racing. His death is a great loss to this sport, to which he made such an important contribution. We will miss him on a personal and a professional level and, on behalf of everyone at Honda, I offer our sincere condolences to all his family and friends.”
From the moment he started helping his elder brother Nick to prepare race and rally cars at his base down in West Kingsdown, near Brands Hatch, motorsport was Charlie Whiting’s lifeblood.
Raised on a farm, he was happy to watch his sibling making his name at the Kentish circuit, racing a Ford Escort under his All Car Equipe banner. But from the age of 12 he knew that all he wanted to do was work on cars and he would spend hours after school helping out and learning the rudiments of a mechanic’s life. The work ethic that he would display until the end was born from such effort, and as he became progressively enthralled he helped Nick to run the ex-John Watson Surtees TS16 which former downhill skier Davina Galica raced in the British Group 8 series in 1976.
Club racing was one thing, but the fire had begun to blaze so strongly that he set out on the path that would take him to the top in Formula 1 by joining Alexander Hesketh’s team in 1977. It was a troubled time after the excitement of the James Hunt years from 1973 to 1975, but in some ways it was the perfect environment in which a determined young man could learn more.
When Hesketh was forced to close the team for good at the end of that year, Charlie struck gold when he joined Brabham in Weybridge. He would work his way forwards under the watchful eyes of team owner Bernie Ecclestone, who was quick to recognise his talent and commitment.
His dream at that time was to become a chief mechanic like his idol Roger Hill, and to help a driver to win a World Championship just as Hill had done with Jackie Stewart. Eventually Ecclestone promoted Charlie to exactly that role, and he would work with the engineering genius of Gordon Murray and drivers of the calibre of Niki Lauda, Carlos Pace, John Watson and the emergent Nelson Piquet.
It was not always easy, and at times the job had its personal dangers. With a wry smile, Charlie would tell the story that on one occasion the mischievous Piquet pitted to inform him that there was fluid in the cockpit. Charlie investigated, prompted by his driver, and went so far as to stick his finger into what he assumed to be brake or clutch fluid and then tentatively to taste it. Whereupon Piquet collapsed with laughter and informed him that he had actually relieved himself in the cockpit.
In 1981 Charlie oversaw Piquet’s accession to the first of his three World Championships, and they followed up with the second with Murray’s turbocharged BMW-powered BT52 in 1983. Charlie stayed until the end of 1987 - shortly before Ecclestone sold the team - and began a new career with the FIA in 1988 when he became their Formula 1 Technical Delegate.
“Bernie told us towards the end of the 1987 season that he wasn't going to run Brabham anymore, but said that he would find something else,” he said in an interview with GP Week. “Some guys stayed on for another project Bernie ran with Alfa Romeo, called ProCar - a silhouette formula that was supposed to be running out of the old Brabham factory. He suggested that I should go to work for FISA (as the FIA was then known) as I was familiar with the things teams could to do to cheat and he thought that I was probably a good person to try to catch them!”
Initially his role was to scrutineer F1 cars. He was supremely successful, effectively being a very clever poacher who had become an even shrewder gamekeeper. His years of experience had developed knowledge and skills that enabled him to spot all manner of attempts to circumnavigate the rules, and brought him fresh levels of respect.
Just as Ecclestone had spotted his innate abilities as a mechanic, FIA President Max Mosley came to appreciate his organizational and diplomatic talents. In 1997 he was appointed FIA Race Director and Safety Delegate. He later became the Permanent Starter at F1 races and the head of the Formula 1 Technical Department at the FIA. These successive promotions were further indication of the manner in which the sporting authorities came to respect and appreciate Charlie’s many talents.
His death from a pulmonary embolism in Melbourne this morning, at the young age of 66, has left the paddock stunned and saddened as F1 prepared to kick off its new season.
“It is with immense sadness that I learned of Charlie’s sudden passing,” FIA President Jean Todt said. “I have known him for many years and he has been a great Race Director, a central and inimitable figure in Formula 1 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 1 lovers.”
Formula 1’s Managing Director, Motorsports, Ross Brawn, had every reason to know Charlie as a doughty competitor and a skilled race official. “I have known Charlie for all of my racing life,” he said. “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.”
That was the thing with Charlie, who was always known just by his first name. He was one of those figures who had been working in the sport so long that everyone knew him and he commanded great respect, not least for the manner in which he handled the devastation of events such as Jules Bianchi’s ultimately fatal accident in the Japanese Grand Prix in 2014.
Whiting was no stranger to tragedy, as brother Nick had passed away in 1990. “On a personal basis, obviously it affected the family,” he admitted. “On a professional basis I don't think it affected my work. Life was quite difficult for a while but we had to get on with it. Certainly Nick would have wanted me to get on with it.”
And he did just that, encouraging others to chase their dreams as he had done. Right to the end, he admitted that pressing the button to initiate the red light race starting sequence still gave him an immense buzz, and he cheerfully ate up the endless travel, not just to every race but often to far-flung new venues which he would investigate and then monitor continuously as construction progressed. It was work that he loved, as was the interplay with drivers at the regular at-race briefings which he chaired.
“I think they [the drivers] are very responsible and they are all trying to give us input to make cars safer, driving safer and tracks safer,” he told GP Week. “We have regular meetings with the GPDA (the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association). We can't do everything they want, but we always endeavour to take their views into account. Going back to the drivers from the early years, my recollection is that it was more like an opportunity to give them instructions. Nowadays, it's more like a meeting, a discussion, in order to share views. It's more informal and we seldom have any stand-up shouting matches, which used to happen with one of our previous presidents! Sometimes the race director would start shouting at drivers, but that doesn't happen anymore, either.”
That was another reason why he commanded such respect. The drivers appreciated that he was a racer who understood their concerns, and would listen. He merely smiled when Sebastian Vettel offered a personal rant at his expense during the Mexican GP in 2016.
At every opportunity, Charlie would spend as much time as he could with his wife and two children. Outside of that, Formula 1 was a life he lived to the fullest, a racer to the end.
As with all great F1 characters, he leaves a huge void with his passing.