MELBOURNE, Australia — Five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton described Charlie Whiting as a pillar of Formula One and an icon of the sport.

Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel recalled the veteran race director being a “driver’s man” and a diplomat.

Drivers, team bosses and fans expressed shock and dismay on hearing the 66-year-old Englishman, who had a connection to F1 dating back to 1977, had died in Melbourne from a pulmonary embolism on Thursday, three days before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

FIA President Jean Todt described Whiting as “a great race director, a central and inimitable figure in Formula One who embodied the ethics and spirit of this fantastic sport.”

Whiting began his F1 career in 1977 with the Hesketh team, then moved to Bernie Eccelstone’s Brabham team in the 1980s. He joined FIA in 1988 and became a race director in 1997.

Whiting was also active in making F1 safer.

F1 Motorsports managing director Ross Brawn said he was devastated after losing a long-time friend.

“I have known Charlie for all of my racing life. We  … spent so much time together at tracks across the world,” he said. “It is a great loss not only for me personally but also the entire Formula 1 family.”

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