Whiting's death sets somber tone for opening F1 GP weekend

F1 Testing In Barcelona - Day 3

The sudden death of race director Charlie Whiting set a somber tone for the first weekend of the Formula One season, with the attention to the regular rivalries such as Lewis Hamilton vs. Sebastian Vettel taking a back seat to the incoming tributes for the respected F1 veteran.

A day before the first practice session for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, F1 drivers, officials and fans were shocked to learn that a man described as a "faithful friend and a charismatic ambassador" for the sport had died of a pulmonary embolism in Melbourne at the age of 66.

Five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton said the ever-diplomatic Whiting was an icon of the sport, and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel said the Englishman was the perfect middle man between the drivers and F1 regulators.

Daniel Ricciardo said the drivers sometimes tested Whiting's patience, "but you always felt like he was on our side."

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Unveiling of the new livery during the Williams 2019 livery launch at Williams Conference Centre, Grove.
Unveiling of the new livery FW42 with drivers George Russell and Robert Kubica during the Williams 2019 livery launch at Williams Conference Centre, Grove.
Kevin Magnussen Romain Grosjean, Rich Energy CEO William Storey and Team Principal Guenther Steiner during the Rich Energy Haas F1 Team 2019 car launch at the Royal Automobile Club, London.
Rich Energy Livery during the Rich Energy Haas F1 Team 2019 car launch at the Royal Automobile Club, London. (Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images)
A general view of the new livery during the Rich Energy Haas F1 Team 2019 car launch at the Royal Automobile Club, London.
Kevin Magnussen Romain Grosjean, Rich Energy CEO William Storey and Team Principal Guenther Steiner during the Rich Energy Haas F1 Team 2019 car launch at the Royal Automobile Club, London.
FIORANO CIRCUIT, FIORANO, ITALY - 2019/02/14: Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo Sauber Formula 1 Racing on track with Alfa Romeo Racing C38 during shakedown of the new car. (Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images)
FIORANO CIRCUIT, FIORANO, ITALY - 2019/02/14: Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo Sauber Formula 1 Racing on track with Alfa Romeo Racing C38 during shakedown of the new car. (Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Kimi Raikkonen Fiorano 14-02-2019 First run for a filming day of the Sauber Alfa Romeo Formula 1 2019 . Sauber has run with a camouflage of the official livery Photo Federico Basile / Insidefoto /Sipa USA
FIORANO CIRCUIT, FIORANO, ITALY - 2019/02/14: Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo Sauber Formula 1 Racing on track with Alfa Romeo Racing C38 during shakedown of the new car. (Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images)
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 13: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15 on track during Red Bull Racing Filming Day at Silverstone Circuit on February 13, 2019 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 13: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15 on track during Red Bull Racing Filming Day at Silverstone Circuit on February 13, 2019 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 13: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15 on track during Red Bull Racing Filming Day at Silverstone Circuit on February 13, 2019 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
SportPesa Racing Point's Formula One livery is unveiled at the 2019 Canadian International Auto show, on February 13, 2019. - SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team is the team formerly know as Force India. (Photo by Cole BURSTON / AFP) (Photo credit should read COLE BURSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 13: In this handout from Sportpesa Racing Point F1 Team, SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team announce their new title partner, Liverpool, UK-based SportPesa at the Canadian International Motorshow on February 13, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Glen Dunbar via Sportpesa Racing Point F1 Team /Handout)
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 13: In this handout from Sportpesa Racing Point F1 Team, SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team announce their new title partner, Liverpool, UK-based SportPesa at the Canadian International Motorshow on February 13, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Glen Dunbar via Sportpesa Racing Point F1 Team /Handout)
Drivers Nico Hulkenberg (left) and Daniel Ricciardo during the Renault F1 Team 2019 season launch at Whiteways Technical Centre, Oxford.
Drivers Nico Hulkenberg (left) and Daniel Ricciardo during the Renault F1 Team 2019 season launch at Whiteways Technical Centre, Oxford.
A picture shows the Renault Sport F1 RS19 car during the 2019 Renault Formula One team season launch at Whiteways Technical Centre in Enstone, northwest of Oxford, on February 12, 2019. (Photo by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture shows the Renault Sport F1 RS19 car during the 2019 Renault Formula One team season launch at Whiteways Technical Centre in Enstone, northwest of Oxford, on February 12, 2019. (Photo by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
MISANO ADRIATICO, ITALY - FEBRUARY 13: Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Scuderia Toro Rosso driving the (26) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR14 Honda on track during the filming day on February 13, 2019 in Misano Adriatico, Italy. (Photo by Samo Vidic/Getty Images)
MISANO ADRIATICO, ITALY - FEBRUARY 13: Alexander Albon of Thailand and Scuderia Toro Rosso driving the (23) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR14 Honda on track during the filming day on February 13, 2019 in Misano Adriatico, Italy. (Photo by Samo Vidic/Getty Images)
MISANO ADRIATICO, ITALY - FEBRUARY 13: Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Scuderia Toro Rosso (L), Alexander Albon of Thailand and Scuderia Toro Rosso (R) seen during the filming day ( on February 13, 2019 in Misano Adriatico, Italy. (Photo by Samo Vidic/Getty Images)
There was once a time when Formula One launches went heavy on kitschy glamour, with Benetton launching a car in the middle of Venice’s Piazza San Marco and McLaren famously turning their 1997 event into a miniature Spice Girls concert.
Lewis Hamilton's ride for 2019.
Lewis Hamilton's ride for 2019.
Articolo aggiornato alle ore 12,30 del 15 febbraio 2019.Si chiama SF 90 per rendere omaggio ai 90 anni della Scuderia (nata nel 1929), la prima monoposto Ferrari nata sotto la presidenza di John Elkann. La Rossa è stata svelata in anteprima mondiale questa mattina a Maranello in attesa dei primi test in programma lunedì sul circuito di Montmelò a Barcellona. Viene cosi'' abbandonata la vecchia numerazione (SF 71H nel 2018) della gestione precedente.Presenti all'evento "essere Ferrari", oltre al presidente, l'amministratore delegato della Ferrari, Louis Camilleri, il team principal, Mattia Binotto, i piloti ufficiali Sebastian Vettel e Charles Leclerc e Piero Ferrari, figlio di Enzo 'Il Drake' il fondatore della Casa di Maranello.Rosso meno acceso rispetto alle tinte precedenti e migliore aerodinamica: cosi' appare la nuova monoposto Ferrari SF 90 svelata questa mattina a Maranello. Un 'vestito' nuovo per la prima Ferrari 'firmata' John Elkann e Mattia Binotto cucito su misura per adattarsi ai cambiamenti regolamentari sull'aerodinamica che semplificano il numero degli elementi. Una monoposto, dunque, più essenziale che rappresenta un'evoluzione rispetto alla vettura dello scorso anno.Per la nuova Ferrari c'è una serie negativa da interrompere: 11 anni senza un titolo mondiale, l'ultimo vinto nel 2007 con Kimi Raikkonen. Il primo banco di prova sarà a Melbourne il prossimo 17 marzo con il Gran Premio di Australia. La Rossa di Maranello dovrà affrontare avversarie 'agguerrite' prima fra tutte la temibile Mercedes W10 o la Red Bull-Honda. Caratteristiche tecnicheLa SF90 (sigla di progetto 670) è la sessantacinquesima monoposto realizzata dalla Ferrari per il campionato del mondo di Formula 1. La vettura è realizzata nel rispetto dei nuovi regolamenti che impongono diverse modifiche rispetto alle monoposto del 2018. Tra le più evidenti quelle alle ali anteriori e posteriori. L'ala anteriore è più larga e più semplice nei suoi profili aerodinamici, quella posteriore è più larga e alta.I deviatori di flusso sulle fiancate sono stati ridotti in altezza, mentre le prese d'aria dei freni anteriori sono state semplificate. Il peso complessivo della vettura sale a 743 chilogrammi, con il pilota e suo equipaggiamento che devono obbligatoriamente pesarne 80. La quantità di carburante disponibile per la gara e' salita da 105 a 110 kg. La SF90 è la sesta vettura della generazione ibrida della Formula 1 iniziata nel 2014. "Sono orgoglioso di lavorare in questo team per portare avanti il sogno di Enzo Ferrari. Per questo siamo qui. Dobbiamo lavorare al meglio": lo ha detto il team principal e managing director, Mattia Binotto, durante la presentazione a Maranello (Modena) della nuova monoposto Ferrari. Il responsabile della gestione sportiva della Rossa ha parlato di un "grande orgoglio e del dovere di preservare la tradizione della scuderia e del nostro fondatore. Questa è la nostra missione"."Non ho la tuta e non posso mettermi nell'abitacolo. Non vedo l'ora di partire e di salire sull'auto", ha commentato Sebastian Vettel. "Come squadra siamo sulla strada giusta speriamo di continuare a migliorare".
Imagen facilitada, este viernes, por el departamento de prensa de Ferrari que muestra el SF90, el nuevo monoplaza con el que competirán el alemán Sebastian Vettel y el monegasco Charles Leclerc en el Mundial de 2019 de la Fórmula Uno. EFE/ Ferrari Press Office
Imagen facilitada, este viernes, por el departamento de prensa de Ferrari que muestra el SF90, el nuevo monoplaza con el que competirán el alemán Sebastian Vettel y el monegasco Charles Leclerc en el Mundial de 2019 de la Fórmula Uno. EFE
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"He did a lot for the sport," Ricciardo said. "I'm sure we'll all race with a lot of passion this weekend. It's a reminder we're all very lucky to be in this position."

The drivers spoke at a news conference that had been scheduled to officially mark the start of the first weekend of the F1 season, but started by formally acknowledging the England-born Whiting's influence on the sport which he joined in 1977 as a mechanic and progressed through the ranks.

Eventually, the focus turned back to racing.

Big questions for the season

Can Sebastian Vettel, who has finished second in the drivers' championship for the last two years, and his new Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc challenge Hamilton in his Mercedes?

How competitive can Ricciardo be since switching to Renault after five seasons at Red Bull, where Max Verstappen is now partnered by Pierre Gasly?

Vettel won the Australian and Bahrain GP races to open 2018 and finished with five victories in a season that ended with Hamilton completely dominating with seven wins in the last 10 races to finish the year with 11 wins from 21 starts. It was his fourth drivers' title in five years in a Mercedes, and his fifth overall.

His teammate Valtteri Bottas had seven second-place finishes last year and didn't win a GP, but Hamilton said the team wouldn't be playing favorites in Melbourne or anywhere else.

"We have a great pairing. It's worked well for years, so no reason to change it," he said. "We're free to race like every single year — that's been said from the beginning ... that's how I like it."

The Mercedes team is aiming to match Ferrari's record (1999-2004) with a sixth consecutive constructors' championship, and set the outright mark by producing a sixth straight drivers' champion.

Faster Ferrari?

Ferrari has been the early pace-setter in the last two seasons, with Vettel winning in Australia in 2017 and 2018.

He thinks the car is even better prepared this time around.

"Yeah, quite frankly because last year's winter testing didn't go well for us," he said. "We had some issues with the car to fix. We got a bit lucky with the race last year ...and grabbed the win."

New for old replacement

Vettel has a new teammate this year after 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen moved to Alfa Romeo Racing, the new name for the Sauber team for which he made his F1 debut in 2001.

Raikkonen placed third in the drivers' championship last year with 12 podium finishes for Ferrari, including victory in the U.S. — his first GP win in five years. The 39-year-old Finn hasn't entirely ruled out another podium result.

"There is always some uncertainty when you head to the first race of the season — you could even call it a mystery," he said. "Anything is possible. The team has shown massive development and I am confident that we can have a strong start in Melbourne."

Kubica's comeback

Williams is hoping an inspirational comeback by Robert Kubica can turn around its fortunes after failing to get anyone onto the podium in 2018 and finishing last in the constructors' championship.

The 34-year-old Kubica hasn't raced in F1 since 2010 following a rally crash that almost severed his right arm. Williams has modified his car to cater for his predominantly left-handed steering.

Quality control

Regulation changes for 2019 will mean wider front and rear wings in the aerodynamic packages designed to make the cars earlier to follow and overtake.

Ross Brawn, the F1's managing director for Motorsport, said the changes should enable drivers to race closer together, which should increase the quality of racing.

Drivers have three practice sessions to get to grips with their cars before qualifying Saturday for Sunday's race.

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