'Irreplaceable' icon: Race director's death on eve of Australian GP plunges F1 into mourningSports | 15 Mar 2019
Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel expressed shock as the sudden death of long-standing race director Charlie Whiting plunged Formula 1 into mourning on the eve of the new season.
The 66-year-old Briton, who had been at the helm since 1997 and was a pivotal figure in the sport, suffered a pulmonary embolism, or blood clot, as he prepared for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
International Motoring Federation president Jean Todt hailed Whiting as "a central and inimitable figure in Formula 1 who embodied the ethics and spirit of this fantastic sport."
"What he did for this sport and his commitment, he really was a pillar," reigning champion Hamilton said. "He was an iconic figure."
Vettel, a four-time world champion, said he saw Whiting on Wednesday and walked the first few corners of the Albert Park track with him. "He's been our man, the drivers' man," the Ferrari driver said. "You could ask him anything anytime, he was open to anyone ... a very nice guy."
The popular Whiting began his F1 career in 1977 working at the Hesketh team, then in the 1980s at Bernie Ecclestone's Brabham, where he was chief mechanic during the world title successes of Nelson Piquet in 1981 and 1983. He rose to chief engineer before becoming an integral part of organizing the world championship in 1988.
His role included overseeing track and car safety, procedural matters on grand prix weekends and starting the race itself.
Throughout his career, Whiting pushed for improved safety and played a key role in the introduction of the halo, the ring-like barrier fitted over drivers' heads as protection.
Formula 1 managing director Ross Brawn said he was "devastated" at the news, after knowing Whiting all his racing life.
Red Bull chief Christian Horner said Whiting's death would leave "a huge void in our sport".
"He was a man with great integrity who performed a difficult role in a balanced way," he said.
Racing great Mario Andretti said: "Charlie was a true giant in our sport and very possibly irreplaceable."