John Button and Other Inspirational Formula 1 Fathers

By (Featured Columnist) on January 15, 2014

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John Button, father of 2009 Formula One champion Jenson, passed away on Sunday at his home on the French Riviera. He was 70.

A passionate motorsport fan and devoted father, John was a constant, reassuring presence at his son's side. It would be fair to say that without his influence and support, Jenson would never have made it.

The same could be said for countless others.

In tribute to John, here we look at five of the most inspiring fathers of recent F1 history.

John Button

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Mark Thompson/Getty Images

John Button had success in the 1970s as a rallycross driver, so it was perhaps only natural he would pass on the bug to his son.

Jenson received his first go-kart at the age of eight, a gift from his father. He turned out to have a natural flair for racing and quickly climbed the junior ranks, supported all the way by his dad.

It wasn't an easy ridekarting isn't cheap, and money was often tight. But together the father and son team, with help from sponsors, got all the way to F1.

John was in the garage as Jenson went out for practice at the 2000 Australian Grand Prix, his first-ever F1 race. He was there for Jenson's first podium at the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2004 and his first win at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2006.

Whatever the race, whatever the milestone, he was always there.

A devoted and loving father, John missed only one of Jenson's 247 races. Regularly sought out by the TV cameras, Button senior was instantly recognisable to viewers and a well-known, popular figure the length and breadth of the pit lane.

Jenson spoke many times of the positive impact his father had on his life and career, but this one stands out. He was talking to The Independent about young drivers coming up the junior ranks, and said:

It can be a problem if the father isn't there because the kid can be different than maybe he should be.

The best thing is to have a dad who understands everything, like I did. You can grow quicker without a dad there, perhaps, but maybe you grow up to be something you shouldn't be.

John will be greatly missed.

 

Several images of John with his rallycross car and Jenson in his first go-karts can be seen here at Bath in Time

Gilles Villeneuve

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Jacques in one of his first cars.
Getty Images/Getty Images

If you say "Villeneuve" to an F1 fan, he or she will bring to mind one of two men. Older fans are more likely to think of Gilles Villeneuve, while those with less interest in history will probably think of his son, Jacques.

After funding his early racing career with success driving snowmobiles, Gilles found his way into F1 with McLaren. On his debut he drove an outdated M23, qualified 11th and set the fifth fastest lap. Despite this impressive display, the team decided against keeping him.

But Enzo Ferrari saw something McLaren did not, and took a chance on the young French Canadian.

Driving for the Italian team for the rest of his career, Gilles won six races and came within a whisker of winning the title in 1979.

But the statistics don't do justice to how good he was. Nor do they tell the story of what a true racer he wasa man who would routinely push his car to the limit and beyond in his quest to win.

Gilles died following an accident during qualifying for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. He was 32; Jacques was 11. At his funeral, former team-mate Jody Scheckter said (quoted by Yahoo):

I will miss Gilles for two reasons: First, he was the fastest driver in the history of motor racing. Second, he was the most genuine man I have ever known.

His talent, attitude and driving style had won him millions of fans around the globe, and he no doubt inspired hundreds of youngsters to beg their parents for their first go-kart.

But more importantly, Gilles inspired his own son to follow in his footsteps. Eventually his mother let him and, 15 years after the death of his father, Jacques was F1 world champion.

Rolf Schumacher

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Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Unlike many of today's drivers, Michael Schumacher wasn't born into a family which could comfortably afford to send their son out in the newest, fastest, shiniest go-kart.

Fortunately, his bricklayer dad, Rolf, knew a thing or two about engines. Speaking to CNN in 2010, Michael recounts how he got started in motorsport at the age of four:

I think it's all the fault of my father, that he took my old kick go-kartthat I used to run when I was two or three years oldtook it apart, took a motorcycle, which he found when we'd been fishing together in the lake...checked the engine was still functioning and he mounted it to that kick go-kart.

To help fund their son's budding career, Rolf began working a second job repairing karts at their local circuit. Michael's mother, Elisabeth, worked at the track's cafeteria. Brother Ralf also took an interest, and would later join his brother in F1.

As Michael rose through the ranks, local sponsors assisted with costs which the Schumachers could not meet. Later, Willi Weber and Mercedes-Benz helped move him up the final rungs of the ladder.

But it was his parents who put him within touching distance.

Without Rolf and Elisabeth's hard work and willingness to go the extra mile for their son, we would never have known the name of Michael Schumacher.

Keke Rosberg

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Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Wearing one of the most magnificent moustaches to ever grace an F1 grid, Keke Rosberg's road to the top was unusual to say the least.

He made his debut aged 29 in 1978, driving five different cars for two different teams and scoring no points. 1979 was no better.

By the end of 1981, Keke had spent four years in uncompetitive cars, and his career points total stood at just six. But Frank Williams saw he had potential, and signed him for the following season.

The Finn finally had a car worthy of his talent, and immediately made the most of it.

Keke became the 1982 world champion despite winning only a single race. His normally aspirated Williams should have been no match for the far more powerful turbo-powered cars, but they were extremely unreliable.

The venerable Cosworth DFV in the Williams had no such issues.

He remained in F1 until 1986, having decided two years earlier that he would quit on his own terms, and later embarked on his second career as a driver manager.

Fellow Finns Mika Hakkinen and JJ Lehto benefited from his guidance and connections, and later he looked after the career of his son Nico (who was born in Germany, so doesn't share his father's nationality).

In 2013, Nico won the Monaco Grand Prix, a feat achieved by his father 30 years earlier. To date, the Rosbergs are the only father-son duo to have both won in Monaco.

Anthony Hamilton

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Paul Gilham/Getty Images

When Lewis Hamilton burst onto the F1 scene in 2007, TV cameras frequently panned to the pits to show us the man who did more than anyone to help him get therehis father and manager Anthony.

By then, he was well used to standing in various pit lanes around the world. As Lewis' karting career progressed, Anthony found it difficult to get enough time off from work to attend every race.

So instead of missing races, he did what only the most dedicated parent wouldtook redundancy from his comfortable, well-paid job as an IT manager and entered the world of self-employment.

Having promised his son he'd support his racing career in exchange for Lewis working hard at school, Anthony took on up to three jobs at a time. He did pretty much anything alongside IT contract work, including less-glamorous jobs such as putting up signs for estate agents and pot washing.

After Lewis hit the big time, splits in their relationship emerged. Father and son parted ways professionally in 2010 as Lewis no longer wanted a business relationship. As quoted by the Mail on Sunday, he said:

Dad will miss being here, but it was me who initiated the break. He's got other things to focus on, but I don't want my dad to be my manager any more.

The split was somewhat acrimonious, and the pair went months without speaking. They later patched up their differences, and Lewis recently told al-Jazeera:

I wouldn't be here without my dad you know. He's been the driving force in my whole career.

Nowadays, Lewis always seems happier when his family are with him at races. Anthony will be a fixture in the pit lane for many years to come.

 

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