14 Jan 2014

John Button Obituary

To support a child all the way up from junior karting to the pinnacle of Formula 1 takes a special kind of parental dedication.

John Button was that kind of dedicated parent. He supported his son Jenson right the way to the World Championship, and was there for all but one of his races. He saw Jenson’s first win in Hungary, and the only time he missed a race was through illness. Unlike a lot of parents with successful offspring, however, he never seemed pushy, happy to cheer on his boy in his lucky pink shirt, always smiling and never at a loss for words.

He was a figure of fun, his bottomless enthusiasm quickly endearing him to the viewing public, to whom he soon became a familiar face. It also made him the target of some gentle humour from Sniff Petrol and Gareth Jones On Speed. He was popular in the paddock too, known to many as ‘Papa Smurf’. But before he was a racing dad, John Button was a racer in his own right, achieving some modest success driving Volkswagens (first in Beetles – one apparently nicknamed the ‘Colorado Beetle’ after the potato-munching beastie because of its colourful livery - and later in a Mk 1 Golf) in Rallycross in the 1970s.

John Button and Fizzer, the Beetle in which he finished runner-up in both the Embassy/RAC-MSA British Rallycross and TEAC/Lydden Rallycross championships in 1976

Yesterday, he passed away from a suspected heart attack at his home in France.

When the news broke, messages of support began to appear on social media almost immediately – not just from Jenson Button’s McLaren teammates, but from right across the field. One of the most touching tributes came from Lewis Hamilton, whose own father Anthony is as familiar a face as John Button. On Twitter, he said “Deeply saddened by the passing of John Button. I’m so sorry @JensonButton John was a great man and will be missed by so many. God bless.” He also had this to say on Facebook:

One thing I do hope provides some comfort to Jenson and the rest of the Button family is the huge outpouring of affection around the world for this colourful, charming man. If you Google John Button, you will find tributes in almost every language you might hear in the paddock – Italian, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Polish and Finnish, plus numerous others I’m less able to identify. Their tone is fond - Addio a John Button, papĂ  di Jenson says one; John Button, un padre feliz en la F1 – referring to his happiness as an F1 dad – says another. Publications from New Zealand to Finland via Brazil and beyond have been swift to mourn the passing of a popular and much loved member of the motorsport fraternity. The paddock will seem a little bit quieter without him.

John Button was a character. He will be sadly missed.

By Sharon Endacotte.