F1 race director Charlie Whiting dies aged 66

Charlie Whiting had worked as the FIA's race director since 1997. Hoch Zwei/Corbis via Getty Images

Charlie Whiting, the FIA's director of Formula One and one of the most influential people in the sport, has died at the age of 66.

The news comes just three days ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday. The FIA, F1's governing body, confirmed Whiting died on Thursday morning as a result of a pulmonary embolism.

Whiting held a key role in the running of Formula One race weekends, overseeing the FIA's operation of all on-track sessions. In addition to his duties at grand prix weekends, he also had a wide-ranging position at the FIA overseeing safety and technical matters in the sport.

FIA president Jean Todt said: "It is with immense sadness that I learned of Charlie's passing. Charlie Whiting was 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. All my thoughts, those of the FIA and entire motor sport community go out to his family, friends, and all Formula One lovers."

Formula One's motorsport boss, Ross Brawn, added: "I have known Charlie for all of my racing life. We worked as mechanics together, became friends and spent so much time together at race tracks across the world. I was filled with immense sadness when I heard the tragic news. I'm devastated.

"It is a great loss not only for me personally but also the entire Formula One family, the FIA and motorsport as a whole. All our thoughts go out to his family."

He began his F1 career in 1977 working for the Hesketh team before moving to Bernie Ecclestone's Brabham outfit in the 1980s. He joined the FIA in 1988 before rising to the position of race director in 1997.

The FIA named Michael Masi as the replacement race director, safety delegate and permanent starter for this weekend's Australian Grand Prix.