FIA Safety Delegate
Any organization is, in truth, only as good as the people in it, and motor sport’s global governing body, the FIA, is no different. One of the men who help make a difference there is Englishman Charlie Whiting. Whiting started out in Club racing and worked his way into Formula One where he served with Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham organization, helping guide Nelson Piquet to a pair of World Championships. As Ecclestone moved from team management into government, he needed to keep men he could trust around him, and one of those was Charlie Whiting who, as FIA Safety Delegate, is charged with guarding and advancing the safety of the sport. It was wearing that hat that he sat down with VR European Editor Mike Jiggle to discuss this month’s main topic—and his personal path to his present position.
Your early motor racing experiences were with your brother Nick in the All Car Equipe team. Nick did the driving, and you were the mechanic, was that something agreed upon?
Whiting: I always fancied myself as a bit of a driver, but never got around to it. From the age of about 12 years, I helped my older brother Nick in his garage. He had a small garage and repair business. In 1968, when I was 16 years old, he did a bit of autocross racing and the racing thing developed from there. Nick progressed to rallycross racing, until 1972–73 when we entered circuit racing. That’s roughly how it all started, so you could say my racing mechanic days evolved from that.
The All Car Equipe were quite a successful team; and a firm favorite with the fans, especially at Brands. What was it like taking on the likes of Gerry Marshall and Co.?
Whiting: It took us quite a while to beat Gerry, but we did—on April 20, 1974. It was a remarkable day for us, a little team beating what we perceived to be a works team. We got better and better, and for sure Gerry was the man to beat; I think we beat him quite a lot from 1974–’76. Of course, he got himself a more powerful car; we built our own for the 1977–’78 seasons and contested the British Super Saloon Championship, which Nick won and was champion in 1978—it was his most successful year. If my memory serves me well, I believe Nick won all 48 races he contested in the All Car Equipe MkII Ford Escort, with the 3.4 V-6 engine.
In 1976, the Whiting team ran Davina Galica in a Surtees for the Shell Sport European F5000 series. It must be acknowledged that the series was in decline and other cars including F1, F2, and F Atlantic cars were invited to pad out the grids, but you finished 4th in the championship, no mean feat for a small team.
Whiting: Yes, we ran Davina in parallel to our own racing program. We started with a Surtees TS16 and moved on the following year to a TS19. We had a couple of 2nd places, quite good results. Davina was quite a formidable woman, very accomplished; don’t forget she was a former downhill skier. Her driving was similarly accomplished. I don’t think she would have been a Grand Prix winner—even in the best equipment—but she was a force to be reckoned with and did well in her races for us.
Then there was a split in the ways; you left your brother Nick and found yourself at Hesketh. The champagne days of James Hunt were over, and they were battling to stay in Formula One. How did that come about?
Whiting: That would be the end of 1977; Davina wanted me to continue being her mechanic when she entered F1 with the Hesketh team. I agreed and left Nick. It was, however, a somewhat ill-fated foray into Grand Prix racing. We didn’t qualify for one race; it wasn’t a bad car but, obviously, it wasn’t the best. Davina couldn’t really make the grade; I think we ran Eddie Cheever in South Africa, and Derek Daly for the next three races in America, Monaco, and lastly Belgium; they couldn’t qualify either. I think it showed that the car was the problem rather than blaming Davina for its inability to qualify. The team folded after that due to lack of funds. Lord Hesketh hadn’t the cash anymore; Davina took the Olympus Cameras sponsorship with her to Hesketh, a company that supported her in the F1 Surtees TS19 the previous year, but that wasn’t enough.
Then you joined Bernie Ecclestone at Motor Racing Developments International, or Brabham, the start of what has become a long relationship with him. When did you first meet Bernie?
Whiting: In June 1978, after the Belgian GP; I was looking for a job. Dave Simms, team manager of Hesketh, put me onto Herbie Blash at Brabham. Herbie invited me for a chat, although he told me he didn’t really have any vacancies on the race team. I went to meet him and he gave me a job with the Brabham test team. The test team comprised of two people, a Mercedes van and a trailer, very meager to what you might imagine. The first test was in Austria; off we went with van and trailer, and completed our duties. The next Grand Prix was in France; I was put on the “T” car of the race team and that was it, from then on I stayed with the full race team. I’m not sure if someone left, or what, it didn’t matter to me, I was on the race team full time.
I continued on the T car for the 1978 and 1979 seasons, until being promoted to number one mechanic on Nelson Piquet’s car for the 1980 season.