It is Saturday 17th October 2009, at about half past ten at night in Sao Paulo. Our Brazilian taxi driver has taken my travelling room-mate and I to the wrong hotel and it’s going to take a while to order another one, so we go to the hotel bar and order a glass of wine.
There, we bump into John Button… sat alone, lost in his thoughts, no doubt contemplating what lay ahead of his son in the morning of a day when he would be crowned world champion. Always Jenson’s most ardent supporter, John barely missed a day of his son’s career. And October 18th would mark the culmination of their incredible journey.
John invited us over that night, as if he was glad to have the company to take his mind away from his thoughts. And there we sat, spoke and laughed long into the night.
Conversation swirled around the place, but eventually moved onto the next season and if it could possibly come up to the levels achieved by Jenson and BrawnGP in 2009. With so much discussion about the future of the team, would the car match up?
“Oh, we’ve already seen next year’s car,” he grinned with his inimitable grin.
“Really? What’s it like?”
“Amazing. It’s going to surprise a lot of people.”
“Oh go on, tell us more.”
“I can’t,” he laughed. “But it’s brilliant. Jenson’s made up.”
We left that night knowing that whatever befell Jenson that Sunday in Brazil, with the championship all but tied up so too was Jenson’s future. A future that included a BrawnGP car in which JB and all his closest confidant’s held immense faith.
Jenson was duly crowned world champion the next day. But it was only in mid November that the true gravity of John’s words the night before that Brazilian Grand Prix hit home. To be precise, it was the day that Jenson was announced as a McLaren driver for 2010.
The wily bugger… he hadn’t meant Brawn at all. That amazing car? The one that was going to surprise so many people? It wasn’t a Brawn. It was the McLaren.
Sitting here now it’s making me smile all over again. He’d been asked a question and he hadn’t lied. He hadn’t handed down a bullshit line. He’d just been John. He’d been completely honest. And in doing so he’d betrayed nobody.
I cannot imagine the paddock without his smile. I cannot imagine walking into McLaren and not seeing him deep in conversation, owing to his absolute openness and willingness to talk to anyone and everyone at any time of the day.
I cannot imagine the pain and grief being felt by the entirety of Team JB and the Button family today. If John leaves a hole in the F1 paddock, one can only imagine the void his passing leaves in his family.
John was a successful racer in his own right, but never was he happier than watching his boy do what his boy does best. He rarely, if ever missed a race.
I’d like to think that won’t change. Just his vantage point.