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, organise 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.”