McLaren star Button’s father found dead after suspected heart attack, aged 70

  • John Button died at his home on the French Riviera
  • Bernie Ecclestone says: ‘I will certainly miss him’
  • John Button saw his son Jenson win the world title in 2009
  • McLaren principal Martin Whitmarsh: ‘John was perhaps more devoted to his son than any other driver’s father’

Bernie Ecclestone has led the tributes to John Button, the father of the 2009 Formula One world champion Jenson and one of motor racing’s most popular figures, who has been found dead at his home on the French Riviera. He was 70.

It was only six months ago that champagne glasses clinked in celebration of the man Jenson called ‘Papa Smurf’ reaching his landmark birthday, and he had seemed in good health at the annual Autosport Awards gala dinner in December.

But in a statement Jenson Button’s agent said: ‘It is with great sadness and regret that I can confirm John Button passed away at his home in the South of France on Sunday.

Whilst we await confirmation, initial signs would indicate a suspected heart attack. A close friend who was visiting John on Sunday was the first to discover the tragic news.

‘John’s children Jenson, Natasha, Samantha and Tanya and the rest of the family are clearly devastated and ask for their privacy to be respected during this extremely difficult time.’

Ecclestone, Formula One’s supremo, spoke for the paddock family after the news broke on Monday afternoon, saying: ‘As with most people, I suspect, I was surprised to see that we lost John Button. He is someone that I have known for over 40 years and is one of those people that you always expect to see at a Formula One race. I will certainly miss him.’

Tribute: Bernie Ecclestone, pictured left with John Button in 2009, says he will miss Jenson's Button's father
Tribute: Bernie Ecclestone, pictured left with John Button in 2009, says he will miss Jenson’s Button’s father


John Button was a near ever-present attendee at F1 races, wearing headphones to follow the radio exchanges during practice, qualifying and grands prix. He was addicted to motorsport, and was himself runner-up in the RAC British Rallycross Championship in 1976.

He wanted more for his son, so much so that he was occasionally left with empty pockets. While traipsing back from Scotland with Jenson’s kart tied on the back of his old Transit van, John had to borrow money for the petrol to get them home to Frome, Somerset.

The ultimate reward came for John, who was wearing a pink shirt as he did superstitiously every Sunday for a race, when Jenson won the world title in Brazil five years ago.

Gong: Button, with his parents John and Simone, receiving an MBE following his title triumph
Gong: Button, with his parents John and Simone, receiving an MBE following his title triumph


John Button after his son's victory at the 2012 Australian Grand Prix
John Button strolls the paddock with his son's partner Jessica Michibata at the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix

Winner: John Button celebrates his son’s win at the 2012 Australian Grand Prix, and right, with Jenson’s girlfriend Jessica Michibata strolling the paddock ahead of the season-opening race in Bahrain back in 2010

Their mission was complete and that night John danced away in his son’s private celebration party at a Sao Paulo nightclub. It is a comfort to think that he probably considered everything that came after that as a bonus.

Some fathers can be pushy but John learned to place himself unobtrusively in the background. He was always there with Jenson but not in the way. Jenson was appreciative of the hardships his father had endured as he rose through the karting ranks, and, when he was rich enough to provide for him, made sure his old man lived and travelled in comfort.

John’s place on the Riviera was close to Jenson’s own. Where he once drove a petrol-deficient Transit, John relished the Ferrari he always took to the Italian Grand Prix, its great engine shaking the Hotel della Regione in Monza when he struck it up.

He often had a glass of something red – or, alternatively, something white – in his hand. His ready smile and leathery face conveyed conviviality to all.

He loved journeying around the world and was particularly excited to see Formula One return to America in 2012. He got to the States especially early to reconnoitre the best restaurants and bars in Austin, and delightedly passed on the tips to the rest of us.

Flying the flag: Button celebrates his maiden victory with his father at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix
Flying the flag: Button celebrates his maiden victory with his father at the 2006 Hungarian Grand PrixThe affection in which he was held was summed up by Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal, who said: ‘I want to say how very sad I was to hear the news of John’s passing.

‘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. 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 One world champion that he is, the most experienced driver on the 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. 

Button is said to be 'devastated' at the passing of his father
Face of the paddock: John Button has been an ever-present during his son's Formula One career

Face of the paddock: John Button was an ever-present during his son’s Formula One career

‘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 was a great dad, but also a lovely man, and he’ll be enormously missed by Jenson, of course, by all at McLaren, and indeed by the Formula One community at large.’

Typically, John was looking forward to the coming season. The last time I saw him – at the Autosport Awards – he upbraided me for criticising McLaren’s failings next season. Loyal to Whitmarsh and hoping for the best for his son, he said: ‘Don’t you worry, next season we’ll be fine.’

Everyone in the paddock, starting with poor Jenson, of course, is simply sorry he won’t be around to see it unfold.



Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button


My condolences to all the Button family, especially to Jenson Button .Very sad news. John….a great man, a friend, we will miss him.’ 
Fernando Alonso ‏(right)

‘So sad and shocked to hear the sad passing of John Button. One of the greatest characters in the paddock & will miss him dearly. #RIP’
Max Chilton

‘I’m very very sorry for my team-mate Jenson Button. His dad was a really great guy who will be missed by all in F1. John Button R.I.P.’ 
Kevin Magnussen

‘So sad to hear John Button has died, a great character who will be missed. Sincere condolences to Jenson Button & his family at this time.’ Heikki Kovalainen

‘We’re devastated to hear the tragic news about ‘Papa Smurf’. Our hearts go out to Jenson Button, his family & friends. We have so many memories of John’s love of life from his years with the team in Brackley. He will be greatly missed.’ Mercedes

‘We’re shocked to hear about John Button. Many of the team knew him well, he was a great personality in the paddock and will be hugely missed.’
Red Bull

‘Our thoughts are with Jenson & the Button family after the terribly sad loss of one of the F1 paddock’s favourite characters, John Button.’ Marussia

‘We join the motorsport community in passing on our sincere condolences to Jenson Button & his family on the sad news of John’s passing. RIP.’ Caterham

‘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



Source : Daily Mail

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