Tributes have been paid to former Southwick garage owner John Button, father of Formula 1 star Jenson, following his death on Sunday.

The father of four, aged 70, was found dead at his home on the French Riviera having suffered a suspected heart attack.

London-born Mr Button lived in Frome and worked as a salesman at London Road Garage, in Bath, before later setting up his own dealership, Autoconti, in Southwick.

During the 1970s, Mr Button competed in the British autocross and rallycross championships with him then devoting his time to encouraging Jenson’s fledgling karting career.

Erling Jensen, a former Warminster garage manager, who also competed alongside Mr Button, said: “Gentleman John, as he was known in rallycross circles, was a credit to motorsport, both as a tough but fair competitor and also as a devoted father supporting his to son on the long hard road to the ultimate pinnacle of becoming F1 world champion.”

Mr Button, father to Jenson, Natasha, Samantha and Tanya, was a popular figure along the F1 pitlane, affectionately known as Papa Smurf, with drivers including Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Paul Di Resta taking to Twitter to pay tribute to him.

He travelled around the globe supporting his son, always wearing his lucky pink shirt, and was at the Brazilian grand prix in 2009 to see Jenson, 33, win the world drivers’ championship.

Southwick driving instructor Roger Brunt, who taught Jenson to drive and competed in motorsports with Mr Button, said: “He was a very good friend of mine, he had a wicked sense of humour and a likable personality.

“John will be greatly missed, he was a real character in racing circles and I will miss seeing his trademark pink shirt on the television.”

Despite moving to France, Mr Button regularly kept in contact with his friends from the region and in November Jenson returned to Frome driving through the streets in his McLaren Mercedes later turning on the town’s Christmas lights.

Tony Bishop, who lives in Frome and used to work for Mr Button at his Southwick business, said: “John was a very charismatic person and had a great presence and people always took notice of what he had to say.”