Charlie Whiting, the long-serving race director of Formula One, has died aged 66.
He suffered a pulmonary embolism in Melbourne where he was due to officiate the curtain-raiser of the new season.
Whiting started his F1 career in 1977 with the Hesketh team and also worked with Brabham before taking up a role with the federation.
He served as race director since 1997 and died on Wednesday, on the eve of the first Grand Prix weekend of the season in Melbourne, Australia.
FIA president Jean Todt said: "It is with immense sadness that I learned of Charlie's sudden passing.
"I have known Charlie Whiting for many years and he has been a great Race Director, a central and inimitable figure in Formula One who embodied the ethics and spirit of this fantastic sport.
"Formula 1 has lost a faithful friend and a charismatic ambassador in Charlie.
"All my thoughts, those of the FIA and entire motor sport community go out to his family, friends, and all Formula One lovers."
As chief mechanic for the outfit owned by Bernie Ecclestone, Whiting played an integral role in the championships won by Nelson Piquet in 1981 and 1983.
After leaving Brabham in 1988, Whiting moved on to serve as FIA technical delegate and then became FIA director and safety delegate from 1997.
Within this role, he was responsible for starting races as well as being the man teams would speak to about a variety of matters over the race weekend.
Ross Brawn, Formula One managing director of Motorsports, said he was "devastated".
He added: "I have known Charlie for all of my racing life. 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. t is a great loss not only for me personally but also the entire Formula 1 family, the FIA and motorsport as a whole."
Several Formula One teams paid tribute to Whiting after news of his death broke.
Red Bull Racing said the team was "shocked and saddened" at the news, while Renault described him as "one of the pillars and leaders of the sport".
"His drive to ensure exciting, safe and fair racing was unparalleled and his passion will be sorely missed," Renault added.
Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner said: "I am deeply saddened to hear the terrible news that Charlie Whiting passed away last night.
"Charlie has played a key role in this sport and has been the referee and voice of reason as Race Director for many years.
"He was a man with great integrity who performed a difficult role in a balanced way. At heart, he was a racer with his origins stretching back to his time at Hesketh and the early days of Brabham. On behalf of everyone at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing we pass on our sincere condolences to his family and friends.
eigning world champion Lewis Hamilton said Whiting was an "iconic figure in the sport".
He added: "What he did for the sport and his commitment, he really was a pillar.
"I've known Charlie since I started in 2007... what he did for the sport, his commitment, he really was an iconic figure.