The Formula 1 paddock will sadly be one pink shirt short this year, following the very sad news overnight that Jenson Button’s father, John, has died of a heart attack in his home on the French Riviera. He was 70 years old.
John was a former rallycross driver who raced in the British championship in the 1970s, finishing runner-up in the 1976 championship. His racing came by dint of his owning a VW-Audi dealership in Wiltshire, but he would later abandon his own racing ambitions to support those of his son.
A huge motorsport fan, he and Jenson watched all forms of racing on TV, and when his son was seven, he bought him a miniature motorcycle, quickly replacing it with a 60cc kart which Jenson drove to victory in his very first kart race.
This quickly turned into an obsession, with John coaching Jenson and preparing his kart as he rose through the junior ranks, as well as tuning kart engines for a number of other youngsters, including a certain Lewis Hamilton.
He remained steadfastly by his son’s side throughout his racing career, and after Jenson finished third in the 1999 British Formula 3 championship, he earned a surprise call-up to the Williams F1 team to contest the 2000 season. Their dream had been realised.
John continued to remain an ever-present, although largely unobtrusive figure in the background, attending virtually every one of the 251 Grands Prix he has contested to-date.
When Jenson finally broke through to claim a long-awaited maiden victory at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix, one of the first to be embraced was his father John, whose pink dress shirt was quickly soaked in champagne.
The pink shirt became something of a superstitious tradition on each race day, and as Jenson’s profile soared, so did John’s, particularly during his son’s 2009 Drivers’ Championship win in 2009 with Brawn GP.
Ever obliging with the media, John was well-liked in the paddock and famous for swapping anecdotes on an evening over a glass of red wine.
More critically, his skill of recognising that he should remain in the background is a knack that – sadly too few – parents of Formula 1 drivers perhaps realise.
The Formula 1 fraternity was quick to react to the news, triggering a wave of tributes to the family on social media – a clear reflection of just how well respected he was.
Deeply saddened about John Button’s passing, a devoted father & great guy. Our thoughts are with Jenson & his family. http://t.co/c0ReA8GpBd
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) January 13, 2014
My condolences to all the Button family, especially to Jenson . Very sad news. John….a great man, a friend, we will miss him.
— Fernando Alonso (@alo_oficial) January 13, 2014
Deeply saddened by the passing of John Button. I’m so sorry @jensonbutton John was such a great man and will be missed by so many. God bless
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) January 13, 2014
So sad to hear John Button has died at 70. What a great character and lovely man. All of F1 will miss him. Condolences to Jenson and family
— Martin Brundle (@MBrundleF1) January 13, 2014
Jenson-I think your dad would say his favorite thing in life was being dad to you @JensonButton. Thanks for sharing him with us. Im so sorry
— Mario Andretti (@MarioAndretti) January 13, 2014
John Button will be sadly missed, my thoughts are with Jenson and his family. A good character in the F1 Paddock was JB
— Alan Jones MBE ASM (@AlanJonesMBEASM) January 13, 2014
“In my long Formula One career, I’ve encountered many drivers’ fathers, but I think it’s safe to say that John was perhaps more devoted to his son than any of them,” McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said in a tribute statement published by the Woking team, with whom Jenson will suit up in 2014.
“Ever since Jenson was a boy, racing go-karts, his dad has been at his side, helping him, supporting him, finding the money for the next race. As Jenson grew older, and continued to win in cars, still John was always there, his most steadfast helper and supporter.
“And, even now, in recent years, during which Jenson has become the consummate Formula 1 world champion that he is, the most experienced driver on the Formula 1 grid in fact, still John has been ever-present, as loyal and as loving as ever, a benign and popular member of Jenson’s small and intimate entourage.
“This coming season will be Jenson’s fifth as a McLaren driver. I believe John has attended every Grand Prix over the past four seasons, and over that period he’s become a unique and, I think it’s fair to say, irreplaceable part of the McLaren ‘family’.
“He’ll be enormously missed by Jenson, of course, by all at McLaren, and indeed by the Formula 1 community at large.”
What beautiful sentiments indeed. The thoughts of the entire RichardsF1.com team are with the entire Button family during this time.