F1 race director dies suddenly on eve of new season

Respected figure Whiting talking to Vettel in Melbourne this week

A dark cloud of sadness has hovered over Melbourne since Thursday, when the news broke that F1 race director Charlie Whiting had unexpectedly passed away.

The 66-year-old Briton - who had been at the helm since 1997 and was a pivotal figure in the sport - suffered a pulmonary embolism, or blood clot, as he prepared for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

Formula One and the governing FIA will present teams with a "global package" of proposed rules for the 2021 season at a meeting in London on March 26, FIA president Jean Todt said on Friday. He joined the FIA in 1988 as technical director, and stay there for over 30 years.

Todt says "Formula 1 has lost a faithful friend and a charismatic ambassador in Charlie".

"It is a great loss not only for me personally but also the entire Formula 1 family, the FIA and motorsport as a whole."Red Bull chief Christian Horner said Whiting's death would leave "a huge void in our sport".

"What he did for this sport, his commitment, he really was a pillar".

F1 Motorsports managing director Ross Brawn said he was devastated after losing a long-time friend. "Our thoughts are with Charlie's family and friends during this hard time".

Tributes have been pouring for the Englishman, with current F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton describing him as an "iconic figure" in the sport.

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"I think the word is impossible, more or less", said Ecclestone on the difficulty of the sport finding anyone of a similar stature. Inside the paddock, he was known simply as Charlie - the go-to man for teams, drivers and media.

"I am deeply saddened to hear the awful news", Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said.

"He has been our man, the drivers' man".

"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".

"There is a general direction we are going with everything, and then there are the details". Hamilton's championship rival Sebastian Vettel echoed those words by saying: "He was a racer, just a very nice guy".

"I don't know if they can find anyone who can do it like Charlie, but I can imagine it could be done if you divide his job into four", Ecclestone added.

Todt said they had already made moves to ensure a smooth transition when Whiting eventually retired but sadly had to fast-track those plans.

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