John Button: Remembering a great man
McLaren
Posted By: James Allen  |  13 Jan 2014   |  6:33 pm GMT  |  135 comments

John Button, father of Jenson and one of the most charismatic people in the F1 paddock of the last 15 years has died at the age of 70. His loss is a source of great sadness to me as he was one of my favourite people in the sport.

He is believed to have suffered a heart attack at his home in the South of France.

John was a terrific man; very funny, irreverent and loved by many in F1 regardless of their team affiliation or whether they had ever had anything to do with him or Jenson.

He could wander into any team’s base, knew mechanics on every team and reminded everyone of the fun side of the sport.

But he was also serious about racing and understood it very well. A former rally cross driver, who worked as an engine tuner in karting, he saw all of the star drivers of the last 25 years starting out on the ladder and was a very good judge of talent.

A fundamental part of Jenson Button’s inner circle from his debut in F1 in 2000, one of John’s strengths was that he was as good at listening as he was at talking and he was very astute at gathering information and advising his son, where appropriate. He had a light touch, unlike many sporting dads. He stayed in the background, didn’t interfere with the team, but always kept listening and learning.

He brought good humour to even the most trying of situations. When Jenson was struggling with a thoroughly uncompetitive Honda in the late 2000s John appeared at the track one day with a T shirt which said, “Today is going to be a better day!”

At Indianapolis one year Johnny Rotten, the former lead singer of the Sex Pistols, was a guest and he and John discovered each other and got talking. That evening they met up in the bar of our hotel and I had a quick drink with them, before they headed out on the town. The following morning – race day – John was his usual spritely self, whereas Mr Rotten was living up to his surname with the mother and father of all hangovers!

I first met John when I was commentating on the Macau Grand Prix in 1999. Jenson was 19 and had finished third in the British F3 championship and was making his Macau debut. I was nine years into my F1 career and two years into the ITV F1 contract at the time, broadcasting F1 to the UK and other English language countries.

John asked me to lunch in the Italian trattoria above the old pit building with him, Jenson and their trainer at the time. He wanted to know about F1; how it works, who were the good and bad guys, what were the teams looking for, how the TV and media worked and so on. We spent over two hours talking. I’m sure it was part of a methodical programme of listening and learning to F1 insiders and gaining as much knowledge as possible. They knew that there was a chance to enter F1, Prost and Williams were interested and Jenson eventually signed for Williams.

I had recently published the book on Michael Schumacher “Quest for Redemption”, which laid out a lot of Schumacher’s methodology. I had spent a fair bit of time with him and Ross Brawn, who was then the technical director of Ferrari and who later became Jenson’s team boss. It had been a fascinating process, learning the inner workings of that relationship. To me, the key to it was being able to maintain consistency at a high level and never giving anything away to the opposition and I told Jenson and John that. Ross created the right environment for Schumacher to thrive and Schumacher kept it on the limit the whole time. He didn’t question Ross’ demands, he just did it.

I spent a lot of time with John at racetracks over the years, comparing notes, listening to old war stories and insights into the current F1 scene. He told me some fascinating stories about Jenson’s rise to the top, including the decisive moment where he said to his son, “We have to make a decision now; either we do this for fun or we do it for real and make a career of it.” Button didn’t hesitate and told his father that he wanted to go for it. He went on to win the 2009 World Championship.

It was the greatest prize imaginable for John. His son, the world champion. No-one deserved it more than John, for all that he had put in and the support he had given. Some people achieve greatness themselves and some are able to live it vicariously through their children. John Button was clearly in the latter category, but few dads could have derived more pleasure than John did from the moment. There was something great about the way his life’s ambition for his son came together.

Gil de Ferran, who ran the Honda team when Jenson was there, once observed to me, “His (Jenson’s) Dad is always a help, because the belief and the emotional support of his Dad has never wavered. Having a guy next to him who has been supporting him since his childhood must be a good thing, because it must give you strength.

“I saw it as a positive to have someone with so much belief in you.”

Jenson has lost that now and it must feel like losing a limb.

F1 is an immeasurably poorer place for the loss of John Button. Deepest sympathies to his family.

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1

Shocked at this moment…I only just heard of John’s passing. Feel terrible right now during 3rd practice GP Australia….I somehow already missed this man’s great character, I loved his presence ..a real father! God bless him

2

Just saw the funeral of John today, with Jenson and sisters Tanya, Natasha and Samantha hurting like hell yet still intensely proud of their. wonderful dad. I have posted a comment earlier on, but James if you don’t mind I’d like to post some more comments. I always thought John should have had the surname Bull as he reminded of John Bull: cheery, honest, sensible, reliable, straight talking, down to earth, courageous, courteous. John was my favourite Formula 1 father; John was never intrusive, he allowed and respected the team and Jenson to get on with their duties and perform to the best of their ability. Never interfere, but always be there for a bit of advice and a bit of moral support. I know you’re up there John, watching down on us mere mortals. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: thank you John for gifting Formula 1 and the British Formula 1 industry your truly brilliant and wonderful son. Jenson’s performance at Germany 2000 at the old flat out blast at Hockenhiem, where at the end of the race on a wet greasy track he was lapping upto an amazing FOUR seconds faster that his rivals made me realise than this 20 year old kid was something truly special; from that day on I knew Jenson was made of the right stuff to become world champion. But of course, Jenson always had the right stuff; John had passed onto Jenson that vital ingredient that is the difference for a driver to become world championship: mental fortitude, the ability not to let pressure consume you and deliver performances race in, race out. No disrespect to Mark Webber, but his crash at Korea 2010 and his detuned performance at Abu Dhabi 2010 showed he was psychologically breaking under the pressure put on up Sebastian. World champions don’t buckle under pressure, as at Jackie Stewart often says “it’s the top two inches that make the difference in a racing driver.” And I’m sure John is up there, smiling down, remembering the good times, not just the championship in the summer of 2009, but the other remarkable performances that Jenson put in over the years. Jenson’s performances at Germany 2004, Hungary 2006, Brazil 2009 and Canada 2011 are some of the greatest in modern day Formula 1 history, and all four races will go down as the most astonishing and thrilling grand prix of all time. So thank you John. Your wonderful son has enriched all us mere mortals with his exploits over the years. From the bottom of my heart, I will miss you John but your legacy is written in history. Jenson and John Button: WORLD CHAMPIONS!

P.S James, thought your essay above on John was lovely, simple, heartfelt,a great tribute to a great man.

3
Tornillo Amarillo

RIP he was also great for me, always good humored, even if I don’t really like pink shirts…

4

Sincere condolences to Jenson and his family.

Never a fan of Jenson, but I hope that man gets stronger after such a loss.

5

Always a smile on his face and upbeat. John and Jenson were a class act. Heart goes out sincerely to

Jensen and family. A really missed character when the F1 is on in future.

6

Very nice tribute James Allen…I would expect nothing less from you.

7

Jenson, our hearts go out to you and your family, as everyone above has shared. While you will probably never get ‘over’ his passing (from my own experience), your Dad will always be with you in the wisdom and grace which he has shared with you and with the world. As you move forward his presence will guide you – often without your knowing. Godspeed.

Thank you James, very well done.

8

Such sad news. John was a lovely man.

Beautifully said, Jame.

Condolences to the Button family.

9

Nicely put James. Sad news. RIP.

10

Monaco 2001, there with my son Jenson, 9 years old. JB was in his debut year. Saw him on a boat in the harbour. Even though he had only finished qualifying a couple of hours ealier, he took the time to come onto the dock and meet my Jenson…take a picture with him and give him a signed copy of F1 magazine, of which he was on the cover that month. He was gracious then as a 21 yr old…and he has grown into a man who gains respect for who he is, and not just the fact he is a great driver. RIP John, your character and love for your son is evident in him being such a wonderful man. Andrew and Jenson Cruse, Phoenix, AZ, USA.

11

Condolences to Jenson Button and family at this very difficult time.

Lovely tribute piece. John Buttons big smile and pink shirts will be sadly missed from our tv screens in future.

May he rest in peace.

12

James,
Me and 3 other Aintree Circuit Club Members had the great pleasure of bumping into John in the Pit Lane at the Monaco Historique in 2010..he was strolling along by himself..I was upstairs in what would be Jenson’s pit garage having a nose around! We chatted with him for over half an hour, reminiscing about his rallycross days at Aintree and a great chat about all things F1. A truly super bloke who will be very sadly missed. We had our picture taken with him in front of said garage…takes on a special place in time now.

13

Quite right !

14

So sad to hear the news and condolences to the button family…

Now go out and win it again for him jenson

15

Just learnt this evening of the very sad news. A real shock. He will be missed at each Grand Prix. I will miss the Pink shirts. I will wear one tomorrow to work in memory. My deepest sympathies to the Button family. Rest in Peace John. His spirit and love of life will continue to grace the world of Formula One.

16

Rest in Peace John xx

17

A great guy and a very lucky man…as he said, he lived the dream. He saw his dream come true. And not many of us can say that. One left having met John richer. And I was with him Friday evening in Monaco, enjoying the type of evening where the following morning is a challenge and he was a happy, fulfilled, satisfied and content man with a smile on his face. I will always celebrate Johns life and will remember him fondly as someone I was lucky enough to call a friend.

18

Deepest condolences to Jenson Button and his family.

19
Andrew Mellentin

I worked J & J at the Williams F1 test team.

We have lost a good man, a man that I think enjoyed life and gave his boy a lot of that life.

RIP John Button

20

RIP John – condolences to all the Button family. He seemed like a man that truly enjoyed life.

21

Thank you James for a great tribute.

Will not forget his presence around the F1 family. His impact and smile will not be forgotten.

Thoughts for Jenson and the family.

22

Condolences to the family, very sad news. We should all hold up a finger signifying #1 in his memory.

23

My deepest sympathies to Jenson and his family. At least John lived to see his son crowned world champion, and few dad’s will ever know what that feels like. Time to grieve, but also to celebrate his life.

24

Rest in Peace John, I for one, will continue to support your son.

Nicely written piece James, you got it bang on…

25

Nice personal touch to the article of the loss of a seemingly very genuine man. Speaks volumes of the bond there must have been between John and Jenson. My own father was aloof and too busy following his own ambition to have much time for his children so I can inversely appreciate the depth of loss that Jenson and his family must feel. Personally John Button was just someone who we knew to be Jenson’s father that was interviewed by the press from time to time usually when Jenson had a good result or some change had taken place. One can only wish his family and friends the most sincere condolences for a man that really died too young.

26

Great guy, great article, great loss.

My regards to all the Buttons.

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