Bernie Ecclestone says the death of Formula One race director Charlie Whiting has affected him worse than any drivers he worked with closely as a manager and team boss.
Whiting died suddenly on Thursday ahead of the 2019 season opener in Australia. Former F1 boss Ecclestone had a close relationship with his fellow Englishman, who he hired as his chief mechanic at Brabham in 1978.
Brabham won two world championships under Ecclestone’s guidance, before he moved into a leadership role of F1 that he only relinquished in 2017 when he was ousted by new owners Liberty Media.
Although safety standards have improved massively in recent decades, Ecclestone’s formative years in the sport had a high mortality rate — there were 26 deaths in F1 races in the 1960s and 1970s although many others, like two-time world champion Jim Clark, were killed in races outside of the championship. Ecclestone had also been manager to Austrian driver Jochen Rindt, who became 1970 champion shortly after being killed at that year’s Italian Grand Prix. Rindt remains F1’s only posthumous title winner).
In an emotional Whiting tribute broadcast on Sky Sports F1 before coverage of the Australian Grand Prix, Ecclestone admitted he has found it more difficult to process the sudden loss of his friend.
“I’ve had this happen to me, because I’ve been very close to a lot of drivers that we lost in the 70s, Those sorts of people I was very close to… I was more upset about Charlie,” a visibly upset Ecclestone said. “Because with drivers it’s like there’s an expectance something will happen but it’s happened so many times, it’s not such a big shock. But when it’s somebody that’s normal… that’s when it’s all different.”
Ecclestone played a role in getting Whiting a job with motor racing’s governing body in the late 1980s, which led too him becoming race director — effectively the referee of all on-track incidents and matters. He also played a key role overseeing technical and safety decisions.
Although the FIA is actively looking for a long-term replacement, Ecclestone does not think there will be anyone who can do the same job.
“I think the word is impossible, more or less,” he said in a separate interview ahead of the weekend. “He’d seen it, heard it and done it all. He did it as a one-man job. It’s finding this person who can do what Charlie did. If you’ve got three or four people doing what he did, it just doesn’t work.
“Nobody really knew what Charlie was or what he did. He did so many things, and nobody really knew and they’d be surprised if they knew the things he did do.”