Tributes from across the Formula 1 paddock have poured in following the tragic passing of race director Charlie Whiting at the age of 66.

The FIA confirmed Whiting died on Wednesday night in Melbourne, three days before the start of the new F1 season, as a result of a pulmonary embolism.

Whiting began his F1 career in 1977 with Hesketh before a stint at Brabham, and then went on to join the FIA in 1988. He served as F1's race director since 1997, as well as being the sport's chief safety delegate.

With the news greeting the F1 paddock during the Australian Grand Prix media day, many drivers and other key figures were still coming to terms with Whiting’s passing and each told their own tribute to the iconic race director.

Reigning F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton has called Whiting “a pilliar” in the sport who helped shape the history of the sport during his tenure.

“I’ve known Charlie since I started in 2007, and obviously incredibly shocked this morning to hear the sad news, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family,” Hamilton said. “What he did for the sport and his commitment, he really was a pillar as Toto [Wolff] said, such an iconic figure within the sporting world, and he contributed so much to us. May he rest in peace.”

Speaking alongside Hamilton during the FIA press conference in Melbourne, Daniel Ricciardo reflected a shared feeling that despite Whiting being part of the rule-enforcing team he was a figure who supported the drivers and ensured their views were always considered.

“He was there for us, and we gave him a hard time, we really pressed him and pushed him and make him work, but he was always really receptive,” Ricciardo said. “You always felt like he was on our side. We would, I guess like a broken record, have a lot of things we would always complain about, he would never really shut it down. He was always ears open. I think he did a lot for the sport.

“We’ll have some very, very nice and positive memories of him. I remember my first Aussie GP in 2012, going up with Franz, and he said go and introduce yourself to Charlie, start of a new season, go and start the relationship on a good note. Time goes fast.”

Sebastian Vettel had spent time with Whiting yesterday during his track walk at Albert Park and feels stunned by his death.

“I was as shocked as we all are, still now, when I heard the news this morning, especially because I spoke to him yesterday and walked the track for the first couple of corners together with him,” Vettel said. “Difficult to grasp when somebody is just not there anymore.

“I’ve known him for a long time, and he’s been sort of our man, the drivers’ man. Obviously there’s regulations and all that, and then there’s us, and he was the middle man. He was someone you could ask anything at any time. He was open to everyone. At any time his door was always open. He was a racer, and a very nice guy.

“All our thoughts, the whole paddock, the whole circus, the whole family of Formula 1, our whole thoughts are with him and especially his family in these difficult circumstances.”

Ross Brawn spent time working both under Whiting and most recently alongside him in his current role as managing director for motorsports in F1 and has been devastated by the tragic news.

“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,” Brawn said. “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 1 family, the FIA and motorsport as a whole. All our thoughts go out to his family.”

Bottas believes it will be emotionally difficult to start the new F1 season so soon after Whiting’s sudden passing, with the FIA yet to confirm its plans given it has operated without an official deputy race director since Laurent Mekies left for Ferrari in March 2018.

“There were so many different things he was involved with and really helping us,” Bottas said. “Helping the safety a lot, he was always taking all the notes during the drivers’ briefings if we had any concerns regarding track improvements or it could be something to do with the kerbs or how the marshals were working during sessions – everything, he was involved in all of that,” Bottas said.

“He had a massive impact in Formula 1 and in what it is nowadays. At this point it’s difficult to imagine would can be there instead of Charlie to do the same job. I think it’s going to be quite difficult, but I’m sure there will be a plan in place from today.”

Tributes to Whiting have continued to be made by key figures in the paddock, while plans are being put in place across the remainder of the race weekend at Albert Park to remember the race director.

“I am deeply saddened to hear the terrible news that Charlie Whiting passed away last night,” Christian Horner, Red Bull team principal, added. “Charlie has played a key role in this sport and has been the referee and voice of reason as Race Director for many years.

“He was a man with great integrity who performed a difficult role in a balanced way. At heart, he was a racer with his origins stretching back to his time at Hesketh and the early days of Brabham.

“On behalf of everyone at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing we pass on our sincere condolences to his family and friends. Charlie was a great man who will be sadly missed by the entire Formula 1 paddock and the wider motorsport community.”

“He’s such a good guy,” Sergio Perez said. “It’s very rare in this sport to meet such a peaceful guy, lovely guy, close friend. I have nothing bad to say about him to be honest. Nothing. It’s only good things. All my thoughts go to his family. We travel the world together for many years, he did more than I did obviously, but it’s sad you know. Someone like him, it’s going to be impossible to find a replacement for him. He’s one of those key players in the sport. He had such a relationship with all the drivers, with all the team principals, so it’s going to be hard to replace him. I wish his family all my best.

“I heard he actually had some plans to go on Mexico with his family, his next holiday was going to be in Mexico, I saw him yesterday. As you saw everyone is shocked, very sad with this news. But at the same time I’m sure that if Charlie was here he will love all of us to see us racing, have a good show on Sunday, that will make him happy. But definitely all my thoughts with his beautiful family.

“He was always great. Always with facts, always - he knew how to get out of trouble himself when there was something he didn’t want to be seeing or wanted to be in that position, he always knew how to deal the best with it. He was just a big gentleman. As you see him on the pictures he’s just really like that, such a gentleman, such a peaceful guy. Someone I will definitely miss a lot.”

“He was very supportive of the drivers, he was our way, our interface to speak, to get our opinions. 145 grand prix so 145 briefings with him,” Romain Grosjean said. “And then some times in the stewards’ room as well. He will be greatly missed.”

“I remember my rookie year he spent a lot of time with me,” Carlos Sainz said. “I remember him as an extremely, how would you say, attentive? Really wanting to listen to my opinion, and it shocked me, because I was a rookie and I thought my opinion didn’t count much when I arrived to Formula 1 but he gave me the opportunity to immediately to listen and even if I was 20 years old and I had done three races in F1 he came to me, talked to me, what do you think, what would you do better, he was very open, open to young drivers.

“I remember my first year being particularly aggressive and he was not coming to me to tell me to calm down he was saying I think it’s great what you are doing to Formula 1, both Max and you are showing new kind of standards of driving a bit more aggressively and raising some questions with moving under braking and he didn’t tell me to stop, he just told me just be careful, you’re great for F1. Keep doing it that way as everyone is enjoying seeing you guys battle and I enjoyed it a lot.

“He was that kind of guy was very open, open for a chat, in my first year of F1 that shocked me quite a lot. When I heard the news today I was devastated as he’s one of those guys that I’ve always enjoyed chatting to, I’ve spent the winter sharing emails with him of how to improve the sports, do more meeting with stewards, organise ourselves to join stewards and drivers in a more productive way, very open for a chat, an email, when I heard the news I was devastated.”