A statement from the FIA this evening has confirmed that Formula One race director Charlie Whiting has passed away just days before he was scheduled to direct the Australian Grand Prix this weekend, as result of a pulmonary embolism. Whiting has been race director for the sport for 22 years, literally the entire time that many of us, myself included, have been watching F1.
Jean Todt, FIA President:
“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 One lovers.”
Charlie Whiting began wrenching on race cars with his brother Nick. At first they were preparing saloon racing cars and rally cars out of a shop near Brands Hatch, and by 1976 had worked their way up to prepping a few British Formula 5000 cars.
Whiting first joined the F1 circus in 1977 working as an underling with the Hesketh team. In 1980 Whiting joined the Brabham team and worked his way up from the bottom to become the team’s chief mechanic. He was instrumental in securing Neslon Piquet’s 1981 and 1983 drivers’ championships. It was his time with the team, then owned by Bernard Ecclestone, where he became quite close with his boss. He stayed on with the team until the tumult of missing the deadline to enter the 1988 season, leaving concurrent with Ecclestone selling the team off.
For 1988, now cleared of his duties with the Brabham team, Whiting took up a position with the FIA as technical delegate. Working closely with Ecclestone, the ultimate boss of F1, he quickly found a home here as well.
Whiting’s role as race director with the FIA since 1997 has included overseeing track and race car safety, as well as technical and procedural matters during grand prix weekends. He is most often associated with the procedure to start the grand prix itself.
Whiting has been the driving force behind many safety advances in the sport, including the driver safety halo introduced last season.
His surprise passing leaves a huge hole in the FIA’s race control team, and a replacement of Whiting’s capabilities will not be easy to find.