Lewis Hamilton says he was “incredibly shocked” by news of Charlie Whiting’s death on Thursday ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, as a number of leading drivers paid tribute.
FIA director of Formula 1 Whiting passed away on Thursday morning after suffering a pulmonary embolism. He was 66. With Hamilton taking part in the traditional pre-race press conference alongside Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen and Robert Kubica, the five-time world champion lead the tributes as all shared their memories of the sport’s race director.
“I’ve known Charlie since I started in 2007,” Hamilton said. “Obviously incredibly shocked this morning to hear the sad news, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family. What he did for the sport and his commitment, he really was a pillar as Toto (Wolff) said, such an iconic figure within the sporting world, and he contributed so much to us. May he rest in peace.”
Vettel was pictured with Whiting at Albert Park on Wednesday, and says the drivers saw him as the primary figure they could approach within the FIA.
“I guess 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,” Vettel said. “It’s difficult to grasp when somebody is just not there any more.
“I think to add on what Lewis said, I’ve known him for a long time, and he’s been sort of our man, the 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. At any time his door was always open. He was a racer, and a very nice guy.
“Shocked. I don’t think there’s that much to add. I think all our thoughts, the whole paddock, the whole circus, the whole family of Formula 1, our whole thoughts are with him and especially his family in these difficult circumstances.”
Kubica described Whiting as “an icon of Formula 1” while Verstappen recalled spending time with the race director in February while doing community service punishment for his shove on Esteban Ocon at last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
“It was a big shock, also because I spent the day with him in Geneva a few weeks ago,” Verstappen said. “We had a good chat about a lot of things. When I left, I was like, ‘See you in Australia for another season of racing’ and then when you hear this news, it’s unbelievable.
“Just 66 years old. I guess you just have to appreciate every day and every morning you wake up and that you enjoy life — it’s not only about Formula 1 but there are a lot of other things in life. This is just one part of it. I think at the moment, the most important is that the thoughts are going to his family and friends and close ones.”
Ricciardo says the drivers will be racing with Whiting in mind on Sunday when the new season gets underway.
“I echo everything,” Ricciardo said. “Just taken aback by it for sure. But yeah, I’ll try and make it slightly more positive. As Seb said, he was there for us, and we gave him a hard time, we really pressed him and pushed him and make him work. But he was always really receptive. You always felt like he was on our side.
“We would, I guess like a broken record, a lot of things we would always complain about, he would never really shut it down. He was always ears open. I think he did a lot for the sport. We’ll have some very, very nice and positive memories of him. I remember my first Aussie GP in 2012, going up with Franz (Tost), and he said go and introduce yourself to Charlie, start of a new season, go and start the relationship on a good note. Time goes fast.
“As Max touched on, it is important to just appreciate each moment. You do take it for granted. I’m sure we’ll all race with a lot of passion this weekend. It’s just a reminder as well that we’re all very lucky to be in this position.”