Popular Formula 1 Race Director Charlie Whiting Has Died In Melbourne

Charlie Whiting, the FIA Director of Formula One, has passed away this morning in Melbourne as the result of a pulmonary embolism.

The sad news comes just three days before the Australian Grand Prix, which will open the 20129 F1 season.

Whiting, 66, was the official race starter in F1 races, and was also responsible for matters pertaining to the sport's rules.

"Charlie was a generous man who always had time for us at 10 Sport across many years during our Formula One coverage," Network 10 head of sport Matt White said.

"I was told about his passing just an hour before our entire commentary team was to have its regular meeting with Charlie on track at Albert Park about the weekend ahead.

"He would always tell it like it is. No fuss, no drama -- and plenty of laughs.

Like the rest of the F1 family we will miss him dearly, and we will pay tribute to Charlie accordingly across the weekend."

This beloved character was so much more than just a race official. As the BBC's chief F1 writer Andrew Benson put it:

"He certified circuits, he led the drivers' briefings, he pretty much wrote the rules by himself, and he did all this with a lightness of touch, approachability and ready sense of humour that made a man doing one of the most difficult jobs in F1 one of the most popular characters in the sport."

A statement on the site of international motor racing's governing body, the FIA, said that Whiting began his F1 career in 1977 and had been the Race Director since 1997.

"It is with immense sadness that I learned of Charlie’s sudden passing," FIA President Jean Todt said:

"I have known Charlie 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. All my thoughts, those of the FIA and entire motor sport community go out to his family, friends, and all Formula One lovers."

F1 teams and fans have been quick to offer their condolences.

Such was Whiting's expertise and indispensability in his role, there is no obvious replacement, and it is unclear for now who will assume the role in Melbourne.

More to come.