Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel led a series of driver tributes to Formula 1® race director Charlie Whiting on Thursday.
The 66-year-old passed away on the eve of the Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix 2019, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) announcing the cause of death was a pulmonary embolism.
The revelation left the Formula 1® world in shock and Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo were no different.
Fronting a packed media conference on Thursday, Vettel told reporters how he and Whiting walked Melbourne’s Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit just hours before he died.
“I guess I was as shocked as we all still are,” he said.
“I spoke to him yesterday (Wednesday) and walked the track for the first couple of corners together with him.
“It’s difficult to grasp when somebody is not there anymore.
“I have known him for a long time and he has sort of been our man – the drivers’ man.
“Someone could ask anything at any time, he was open to everyone and his door was always open. He was a racer and a very nice guy.”
Vettel and Hamilton may be big title rivals but they were completely united in their views on Whiting.
“I have known Charlie since I started in 2007 … obviously extremely shocked this morning to hear the sad news,” five-time world champion Hamilton said.
“My thoughts and prayers are with his family.
“All he did for this sport, his commitment – he really was a pillar … such an iconic figure in the sporting world … may he rest in peace.”
Ricciardo said it “always felt like he (Whiting) was on our side”, while Williams driver Robert Kubica revealed that he did not interrupt Whiting when walking the track with Vettel because he thought he would see him in a pre-race drivers’ briefing on Friday.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen said that he had also spent time with Whiting recently.
“It was a big shock also because I spent like a 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 said ‘see you in Australia for another season of racing’ so when you hear this news, it’s unbelievable.”