(CNN) - Leading motorsport figures have paid tribute to Formula One's race director Charlie Whiting following his sudden death after he suffered a pulmonary embolism in Australia.
The 66-year-old Whiting was in Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix, which kicks off the new Formula 1 season at the weekend.
He had begun his F1 career as part of the Hesketh team, before joining Bernie Ecclestone's Brabham outfit, where he served as the team's chief mechanic during a successful era that saw Nelson Piquet win the World Drivers' Championship (WDC) in both 1981 and 1983.
He had been the motorsport series' race director since 1997. FIA president Jean Todt described Whiting as "a central and inimitable figure in Formula One who embodied the ethics and spirit of this fantastic sport."
Prior to taking over as the competition's race director, which saw him serve as the official starter of each grand prix, as well as the overseer of F1's rules and regulations, Whiting had initially joined the FIA in 1988 as its technical director.
'Our sort of man'
Five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was one of many current and former F1 stars to pay tribute to Whiting, who was seen as the go-to man for drivers on any race weekend.
"What he did for the sport, his commitment, he really was a pillar," Hamilton said. "Such an iconic figure within the sporting world, and he contributed so much to us. May he rest in peace."
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel called him "our sort of man, our drivers' man". He said: "I spoke to him yesterday and walked the track for the first couple of corners together with him. It's difficult to grasp when somebody's just not there anymore.
"He was the middle man. He was someone you could ask anything, at any time. He was open to everyone, any time his door was always open. He was a racer, he was just a very nice guy."
Formula 1 managing director Ross Brawn recalled his own long-lasting friendship with Whiting, who also worked with triple world champion Niki Lauda during his time at Brabham.
"I have known Charlie for all of my racing life," he said. "We worked as mechanics together, became friends and spent so much time together at race tracks across the world.
"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."
Sergio Perez, who drives for Racing Point, said: "It was fantastic [to work with Charlie]. He was such a good guy. 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 travelled the world together for many years.
"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."
Toto Wolff, Mercedes team principal, added his own tribute, reflecting on a "pillar of our Formula 1 family" and "a true guardian of its best interests."
Ferrari chief Mattia Binotto heaped further praise on Whiting's knowledge of the industry, calling him "a tireless and enlightened motorsport expert." Binotto added: "He helped make F1 safer and better.
"Our sport is diminished by his passing and we have lost a friend. He will be greatly missed."