Byline: Kevin Eason
THE national anthem blasted out as the blizzard raged and small piles of snow formed on the heads of photographers trying to focus on the face of a bemused youngster who was unsure whether he should laugh or be as solemn as the occasion seemed to demand.
Then the artificial blizzard that filled the small 18th-century theatre in an out-of-the-way village in Italy was probably as difficult for Jenson Button to comprehend as almost everything else going on in his life right now. He was being celebrated by Brisighella as the best newcomer to Formula One, awarded the Lorenzo Bandini Trophy in memory of its most famous son, a Ferrari driver who died after crashing in Monaco in 1967.
Where the blizzard fitted in nobody could explain as Button staggered under the weight of the vast trophy, a replica Ferrari, and accepted a standing ovation.
Unfortunately, the morning after the night before was not so satisfying and the applause turned out to be a rare treat. Button, 21, was shipped out of BMW-Williams after just a season to go through exactly the hard knocks that he is enduring at the substantially revamped Benetton-Renault team, struggling to overcome myriad problems raised by developing an innovative engine on the racetrack instead of in the laboratory. It is under-powered and prone to breaking down -as it did during practice yesterday.
Button usually betrays no sign of what is going on inside that helmet, but even he felt like getting out of his car and kicking it. "It is so frustrating and it has become really hard for everybody," he said. "But it can only get better." He cannot help but take a backward look at his old team, though. While he toiled around the Interlagos track in Brazil a fortnight ago, his replacement at BMW-Williams, Juan Pablo Montoya, led the race.
"I have to forget that part of my life and concentrate on the future," Button said. "I know this team will improve and I know I have a chance to go back to Williams, so I have to work towards that."
In the meantime, he has his trophy, though which mantlepiece it will stand on - in the new house in Weybridge, Surrey, or the flat in Monaco -is yet to be decided. Certainly not on the new boat, just one of the benefits Button has taken from motor racing that has drawn criticism that he has become too much the playboy.
He bristles at the suggestion. "I have trained harder than ever and I am working harder," he said. "I don't go partying, no matter what people think. People haven't a clue what I do in my private life, but they should know I'm dedicated to Formula One."
Dedicated enough to put up with what will probably be, for him, another disappointing weekend in the sport. He has his trophy but he would happily swap it for a place at the front of the grid today.
Copyright (C) The Times, 2001