The Formula 1 fraternity will be missing a well-respected figure when it returns for the 2014 season with the death of John Button, father of McLaren driver and 2009 champion Jenson Button. The 70-year-old was also a rallycross racer in the '70s.
"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," said Jenson's agent in an official statement. "While 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."
Tributes to the older Button poured in from the F1 world, and McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh's message painted a picture of how dedicated the father had been to his son: "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 had become a unique and--I think it's fair to say--irreplaceable part of the McLaren family. 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 Button was as popular among fans of the sport as he was to its insiders. He'd usually arrive at and leave the race venues with his son, and we witnessed firsthand that quite a few autograph seekers would ask him to sign their programs, too. We express our sympathies to his family and especially to Jenson, who is due to hit the track again later this month for pre-season testing. But if he were to take some time off following this unfortunate event, we think it would be completely understandable.
Photo from Vodafone McLaren Mercedes's Facebook page