Melbourne - Formula One race director Charlie Whiting, a popular and key figure in the sport, has died three days before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, the governing FIA said in a statement on Thursday. He was 66.
The Briton, who started his career working for the Hesketh team in 1977, died in Melbourne of a pulmonary embolism, it said.
"It is with immense sadness that I learned of Charlie's sudden passing," said Jean Todt, president of the International Automobile Federation.
"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 One has lost a faithful friend and a charismatic ambassador in Charlie."
Whiting, who had been race director since 1997, first worked in Formula One for defunct British outfit Hesketh before crossing to Brabham to work with the sport's former commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone in the 1980s.