Charlie Whiting, Formula 1’s long-serving race director, has died aged 66.

The sport’s governing body, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) said Whiting suffered a pulmonary embolism on Thursday morning in Melbourne, three days before the first race of the 2019 season.

“It is with immense sadness that I learned of Charlie’s passing,” said FIA president Jean Todt.

“Charlie Whiting was a great race director, a central and inimitable figure in Formula 1 who embodied the ethics and spirit of this fantastic sport.

“Formula 1 has lost a faithful friend and a charismatic ambassador in Charlie. All my thoughts, those of the FIA and entire motorsport community go out to his family, friends, and all Formula 1 lovers.”

Formula 1’s broadcaster, Sky Sports, described the Briton as “one of the most respected, influential and well-liked figures in the sport”.

Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton said: “What he did for this sport, his commitment, he’s such an iconic figure within the sporting world and he contributed so much to us. May he rest in peace.”

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Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, said: “It’s difficult to grasp when somebody’s just not there anymore. I’ve known him for a long time and he’s sort of been the drivers’ man… he was a racer, just a very nice guy. I’m shocked.”

1996 F1 champion Damon Hill said: “It’s a huge shock for everyone. He was one of those people who you always thought was going to be there as a voice of reason.

“He had massive responsibility and the pivotal role in keeping the sport running. He’s going to be very hard, if not impossible, to replace.”

Charlie Whiting in a Drivers Press Conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil
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The sport ‘has lost a faithful friend and a charismatic ambassador,’ the FIA said

Whiting began his F1 career in 1977 working for the Hesketh team, before joining Brabham in the 1980s where he worked for team owner Bernie Ecclestone.

As chief mechanic, he played an integral role in the championships won by Nelson Piquet in 1981 and 1983.

He left the team in 1988 and joined the FIA for the first time, first as technical director and then as F1’s race director from 1997.

In his role, he had ultimate responsibility for technical and safety matters in the sport, including being in charge of starting Grands Prix.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen said he passed at a young age: “Just 66 years old. I guess we just have to appreciate every day, and every morning you just enjoy life. It’s not just about Formula 1, there are other things in life.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said: “He was a pillar of our Formula 1 family… a fantastic ambassador for our sport and a true guardian of its best interests.”

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto called him “a true professional” and “a wonderful person, who always treated everyone with respect.”

Red Bull’s Christian Horner described him as a man “with great integrity who performed a difficult role in a balanced way. At heart, he was a racer… a great man who will be sadly missed by the entire Formula 1 paddock and the wider motorsport community.”