By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - The sudden death of Formula One race director Charlie Whiting is a huge blow for the sport and leaves impossible shoes to fill, Bernie Ecclestone said on Thursday as tributes flowed in.
Whiting, 66, died overnight in Melbourne of a pulmonary embolism, three days before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The governing FIA announced Australian Michael Masi would take over Whiting's duties.
Former F1 supremo Ecclestone, a long-time friend of the Briton who worked for him at the Brabham team in the 1980s, told Reuters that the job of race director was one of many roles carried out by Whiting.
"It's a big, big, big loss to Formula One. He kept things on the road and kept the FIA pretty well straight because he'd look after the rules and everything else," said the 88-year-old.
"People talk about him as a race director but it was a small part of all the things he did. A talented guy who loved doing what he wanted to do.
"Two or three of the top, top teams tried to get him to be their team manager but he thought he could do a lot better for everyone doing what he did," added Ecclestone, who ruled Formula One for decades before being ousted in 2017.
A poacher turned gamekeeper, Whiting knew all the tricks from his time with teams and joined the FIA as a technical delegate on Ecclestone's recommendation in 1988, becoming race director in 1997.
Known simply as Charlie, Whiting was the go-to man for teams, drivers and media who respected his authority that came with approachability and an easy sense of humour. He had the complete trust of Ecclestone and FIA presidents.
Whiting conducted the pre-race drivers' briefings, keeping some of the rawer talents in check, oversaw safety developments and inspected new circuits seeking a place on the calendar.
The Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA) said Whiting had been a friend to generations of racers, a stalwart admired and trusted by all.
"I think the word is impossible, more or less," said Ecclestone on the difficulty of the sport finding anyone of a similar stature. "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."
Ecclestone, who underwent a triple coronary bypass in 1999, said he took consolation that Whiting had passed away suddenly and without suffering.
"He went to bed and didn't get up in the morning. Which is as good as it gets if you've got to leave us," he said.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond)