FIA race director Charlie Whiting, who died in Melbourne on the eve of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, was one of modern Formula 1’s most valued ambassadors and also one of its great links to a golden era.
Like Luca di Montezemolo, Ron Dennis, Bernie Ecclestone, Herbie Blash and Max Mosley, all of whom have either stepped away or been sidelined from F1 in recent years, Whiting learned his craft in simpler times. He had his first experience of F1 machinery in 1976, running Divina Galica’s Surtees TS16 for his brother Nick’s team in British events, then stepped up to grand prix level with Hesketh and later Brabham, where he rose to become chief mechanic and helped guide Nelson Piquet to two world titles.
After Ecclestone sold Brabham, Whiting joined the FIA and served as technical delegate from 1990-96 and subsequently race director and safety delegate, positions he still held when he died, aged 66, from a pulmonary embolism.
Whiting’s unflappable manner was a perfect antidote to F1’s often inflammatory politics and made him a universally popular figure with those who worked in the paddock.
“Whiting’s unflappable manner was an antidote to F1’s politics”
He could be a valuable ally to the media, too. Although he couldn’t always be quoted directly, he would patiently explain the borderline inexplicable to give writers and broadcasters background information that embellished their understanding.
In Motor Sport’s experience, he was an old-school racer with a big heart, a major cog in a high-profile sport yet always approachable and happy to chat – something that never changed with time’s passage.
Members of the Motor Sport editorial team are among those to have been grateful for his willingness to talk through a race as the sun set over Suzuka or wherever, even though his heart was in all likelihood set on a glass of nice red.
His loss will keenly be felt not just within F1, but throughout the sport.
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