Not all legends of Formula 1 drive, make, or manage the cars. Charlie Whiting was one of those. For over 30 years he was the Formula 1 Race Director, in charge of making sure the season ran smoothly, the safety of the cars, parc fermé, and numerous other responsibilities to do with the logistics and behind-the-scenes bits of the sport we so dearly love.
Born in the town of Sevenoaks, Kent, Whiting developed a love of cars and racing from a young age. The first race he watched was the 1964 British Grand Prix, held for the first time at Brands Hatch, a five-minute walk from his home. It wasn’t long after that when he set his sights on engineering with the prospect of breaking into motor racing.
By the 1970s, Whiting was a fully qualified mechanical engineer. He teamed up with his brother and friend Divina Galica to run a Surtees for her in the British F5000 series. The pairing earned Galica four podiums in the 1977 ShellSport International Series for F1 cars, eventually ending the championship sixth. Whiting also entered Galica in the 1976 British Grand Prix, making her the third-ever female F1 driver. She failed to qualify.
Whiting moved to the Hesketh team in 1977, but the team was in decline by that stage and closed its doors at the end of the following year. He moved to Brabham in 1979, joining Bernie Ecclestone for the first time. He stayed on with Brabham for the next decade, winning titles with Nelson Piquet in the process and getting very close with Ecclestone.
In 1988, Ecclestone ended his involvement in Brabham and asked Whiting to become the technical delegate for Formula 1. Whiting accepted and thus began his 30-year tenure as the man who made sure F1 ran smoothly. He, in conjunction with Professor Sid Watkins, made a raft of changes to F1 racing in the aftermath of the 1994 San Marino weekend, when both Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna died, and Rubens Barrichello suffered serious injuries, all in separate crashes.
The dynamic duo of Whiting and Watkins made Formula 1 as safe as ever, with side cockpit protection, the survival cell, and the HANS device made mandatory under their leadership. After Sid Watkins died in 2012, Whiting was left to improve safety alone.
Arguably one of the biggest things he implemented for safety was the halo protection device. Despite controversy regarding how it looked, it was implemented for the 2018 season, and at that year’s Belgian Grand Prix, it demonstrated its use by likely saving Charles Leclerc from serious injury. Any doubt in the usefulness of the halo was then completely thrown out the window when Romain Grosjean miraculously survived a monumental crash at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, all thanks to the halo.
On March 14, 2019, the world of Formula 1 was shocked to hear that Charlie Whiting had died in his Melbourne hotel room from a pulmonary embolism on the eve of the new F1 season. Racing championships all over the world paid tribute to the man who made motorsport so dynamic and safe, and a minute’s silence was held before the start of the Australian Grand Prix that weekend. For the 2019 British Grand Prix, Whiting’s son, Justin, carried out the start light procedure in tribute to him.