2009 Formula One World Champion Jenson Button suffered a crushing blow to his preparation for the 2014 season on Sunday when his father John, 70, passed away from a suspected heart attack.
Button Snr, known as ‘Papa Smurf’ in the paddock and noticeable by the trademark pink shirts he wore ever since his son won the 2009 title, was found at his home on the French Riviera on Sunday morning by a friend; the news broke in the UK on Monday afternoon.
The Button family, including Jenson’s sisters Samantha, Tanya and Natasha, have requested privacy as they come to terms with their father’s unexpected death. Sympathy was expressed in public online by F1 teams and personalities, including double World Champion Fernando Alonso and Button’s team McLaren, who added an official statement penned by Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh:
“Speaking on behalf of all at McLaren Mercedes, I want to say how very sad I was to hear the news of John’s passing. In my long Formula 1 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. He was not only 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 1 community at large.”
John himself was a racing man, achieving major results in the British Rallycross Championship in the 1970’s before turning to funding his Jenson’s blossoming karting career. He attended all but one of Button’s 249 Grand Prix races to date, including last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix where his son became the most experienced British Formula One driver in history.
Jenson is expected to take several days out before resuming his preparation for the first pre-season test in Jerez on 28th January.