Photo credit: ph-stop on Flickr (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)
On the eve of the first race of the 2019 season, Formula One lost one of its icons. Although not a driver, Whiting will go down as one of the greatest to ever walk the F1 paddock.
As most in the F1 community expected, a Thursday morning three days before lights out in Melbourne was one of excitement. Returning Polish driver Robert Kubica, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and hometown hero Daniel Ricciardo were all set to appear at the morning press conference.
Having stopped the alarm from sending me insane, I began my morning routine as I normally would – by checking my phone.
I didn’t hear of Charlie Whiting’s passing the conventional way. Not by Twitter, Facebook or news notification – but through a message from my father.
In 2016, my father and I met Whiting when we travelled to Bahrain to experience the glitz and glamour that is the F1 circus together for the first time.
Whiting had always been a hero of ours, from his press conference humour to his no-nonsense approach to even the most acclaimed of drivers, Whiting was a man of the fans.
You can imagine my disappointment then when my father told me the 66-year-old Race Director had passed away as a result of a pulmonary embolism.
Having been responsible for over 48 years’ worth of F1 starts, Whiting hasn’t left the sport short of memories.
Introduction of the Halo
A pillar of the sport, Whiting became one of F1’s most respected, influential and well-liked figures across five decades in the paddock.
He first joined the FIA, F1’s governing body, in 1988 and served as F1’s race director since 1997.
Whiting had ultimate responsibility for technical and safety matters in the sport, which he revolutionised as his time as race director. No safety change was greater than that of the introduction of the Halo.
The driver crash protection system, which consists of a curved bar placed to protect the driver’s head, split opinion since its introduction in 2018.
Its introduction was a result of Whiting’s passion for safety, following the fatal crash of Ferrari development driver Jules Bianchi at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2015.
Bianchi sustained fatal head injuries after crashing into a support truck during the rain-soaked race. He was the first driver to die due to injuries sustained during a race, since legendary Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna was killed at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
The Halo is a physical reminder of Whiting’s legacy which will remain in the sport for years to come.
Ducking for cover during a massive F2 shunt
Whiting’s technical role soon developed into race starter. Although known for his role in starting the F1 races, Whiting also took part in getting the equally exciting Formula 2 support races underway.
However, at the last race of the 2018 Formula 2 season, the Race Director had to duck to avoid flying debris after Nicholas Latifi, who stalled from third on the grid, was hit at speed by 19th-place starter Arjun Maini.
Although both drivers survived unscathed, the sight of the grey-haired icon ducking to avoid debris was one that many F1 fans will never forget.
Inside the 2017 Mexico drivers briefing
This was a special one for F1 fans. Never before had we been allowed access to the notorious driver’s briefing, which has seen arguments, tears and even fights in the past.
But as part of Liberty Media’s attempt to make Formula One more accessible, fans around the globe were given exclusive access to what actually goes on inside a driver briefing and as you could imagine, it made for great viewing.
The sight of Whiting lecturing some of the highest paid and most acclaimed drivers in the history motorsport is one which will never be forgotten.
Friday will mark the start of the 2019 season as the new cars will take to the streets of Melbourne to begin the first Free Practice session (FP1) of the day.
Although the circus will continue, Whiting’s loss is incalculable to measure in a sport that he loved and that loved him.