Lewis Hamilton and F1 stars pay tribute to Charlie Whiting as F1 chief dies aged 66

LEWIS HAMILTON has led the tributes to Charlie Whiting after the F1 chief died on the eve of the new season.

The 66-year-old suffered a pulmonary embolism earlier today in Melbourne ahead of this weekend’s Australian GP.

Whiting was the head of Formula 1 for the FIA and was one of the key figures in the rise of the sport.

And Hamilton has opened up about his relationship with Whiting.

“I’ve known Charlie since I started in 2007,” he said.

“My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton

“Obviously incredibly shocked this morning to hear the sad news.

“My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

“What he did for the sport, his commitment, he really was a pillar.”

Whiting was the official F1 race starter and he was due to officiate the Melbourne GP, which gets underway with practice on Friday morning.

The race director was one of the most influential people in the sport and Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel has also paid tribute.

“I walked the track for the first couple of corners with him,” he said.

“It is difficult to grasp when someone is just not there any more.

“He has been our man, the drivers’ man. There’s the regulation and then us, and he was the middle man.

“Any time his door was always open. He was a racer, just a very nice guy.”

And Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo echoed those sentiments.

“He was there for us and we gave him a hard time,” he added.

“We’d really press him and push him and make him work, but he was always really receptive, you always felt like he was on our side.

“Time goes fast and it’s important to appreciate it. We’ll all race with a lot of passion this weekend and it’s just a reminder we are all very lucky to be in this position.”