F1: Charlie Whiting – A Colossus within Motorsport

R.I.P. Charlie Whiting 1952-2019. Image Sourced from F1i.com

On the eve of the 2019 season in Australia, Formula One has been left stunned by the death of one of the most likeable, respected and most dedicated personalities in the paddock.

Formula One Race Director and Safety Delegate Charlie Whiting sadly passed away in his sleep on Thursday morning. He was 66.

Whiting is understood to have suffered a pulmonary embolism and his sudden passing has left a huge hole in the paddock as the teams and drivers gather together in Melbourne this weekend.

Many people have been being tribute since the news broke, demonstrating how much Whiting was loved by the motorsport community.

FIA President Jean Todt realised the following statement:

“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.”

Born in Sevenoaks, Kent, in 1952, Whiting fell in love with motorsport as a young boy and watch his first motor race aged 12 at the 1964 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, which was close to his home.

After gaining experience working on rally cars, Whiting’s 42-year association with Formula One began when he joined Hesketh Racing in 1977. When the team folded shortly after, he was snapped by Bernie Ecclestone and the Brabham team.

Whiting would go to develop a close relationship with the team’s No.1 driver, Nelson Piquet. During his time as the Brazilian’s chief mechanic between 1981 and 1985, Piquet would go on to win the Drivers’ Championship in 1981 and 1983 respectively.

Three years later, Whiting became the Technical Delegate of the sport on the behalf of the FIA after Brabham sat out for a year. In this role, he was responsible for ensuring a fair and level playing field and inspected every car before and after each Grand Prix.

During his time in the role, Whiting oversaw some of the F1’s biggest controversies, but despite being strict, he would go on to develop excellent relationships with numerous key figures up and down the pit lane.

Alongside the late Professor Sid Watkins, Charlie Whiting was an instrumental figure in ensuring the safety of drivers, team personnel and spectators, following the infamous 1994 San Marino Grand Prix weekend that claimed the lives of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna.

After this, it was Whiting who helped made front and side impact crash infrastructures mandatory.

In 1997, he was made the FIA Director and Safety Delegate and often visited new circuits to check for any outstanding risks and assess whether they were ready to host a Grand Prix.

This job enhanced further when he was put in charge of the starting lights procedure at the start of every race.

Whiting also had to deal with some tricky situations as the Safety Delegate, most notably during the 2005 United States Grand Prix, when he stuck to his principles after Michelin brought faulty tyres and rejected an appeal by teams to install a chicane on the banking.

On top of this, Whiting also had to oversee the aftermath of the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, where Jules Bianchi’s crash at Suzuka’s Dunlop Curve caused serious head injuries and eventually his life nine months later.

It was this tragic incident that led to the introduction of the Virtual Safety Car to reduce the risk of drivers speeding under yellow flag conditions.

Other safety features introduced by Whiting include the HANS device, driver briefings to listen to concerns amongst the drivers and more recently, the halo which prevented Charles Leclerc some receiving major injuries during the start of the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix.

Whiting essentially became the middle man between the FIA and the teams.

During the press conference at Melbourne, which was held hours after Whiting’s untimely death, Lewis Hamilton led the tributes:

“I have known Charlie since I started in 2007. Incredibly shocked to hear the sad news and my thoughts and prayers are with his family.

“All 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.”

These thoughts were echoed by Sebastian Vettel, who revealed he’d done part of his track walk with Whiting on Wednesday afternoon, whilst others paid tribute on social media.

Charlie Whiting was a colossus within motorsport, let alone Formula One. He has a major role in developing the sport over the last four decades and become one of it’s most iconic figures.

All the drivers racing on Sunday will remember his legacy and will be thankful for all the work he has done over the years.