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Button goes back to school

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Sarah Holt | 10:06 UK time, Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Jenson Button has used his brain instead of brawn this season to charge back to the top of the championship.

The defending world champion's twin victories in Australia and China were down to his smart strategic calls and won him plaudits for out-thinking his rivals - not bad for the boy from Frome who left school with one GCSE to his name.

On Tuesday, Button returned to the Somerset market town to visit his three former schools and share his wisdom in the classroom.

The first stop at the Vallis First School, the seat of Button's early learning between the ages of four and nine, brought some tough questions from the floor during morning assembly.

"Were you naughty at school?" asked a little girl in her best voice.

"I think my answer's supposed to be no," said Button under the watchful gaze of the headmistress. "Once or twice maybe, but I learnt from my mistakes. I accidentally broke someone's glasses once and I did feel guilty about that. We all have our bad days."

Jenson Button answering questions from children at a primary school in Frome, his home townJenson Button is grilled by the school children

Next up for the McLaren driver: "What is your best toy?"

"At this school I remember I played with a lot of big trucks," grinned Button. "Now it's my Formula 1 car - but unfortunately I have to give it back."

The world champion sat on the edge of the stage answering the concerns of the young minds with the same clarity, openness and charm he calls upon during F1's slightly more predictable media sessions.

But when he walked grinning out of the little school he revealed: "It was quite emotional seeing the kids wearing the same green uniform I did 25 years ago.

"I've got some good memories there and they came back."

Button was the same age as the children he met at Vallis primary school when he started out on the road to F1 with innocent curiosity.

Like the majority of his F1 peers, Button's racing passion was born in karting and, at the age of eight, he was given a go-kart by Dad John, a rallycross driver.

By the time Button progressed to Selwood Middle School he was already focusing on a future in motorsport.

"The first time my school friends knew I karted was when I stood on this stage back in the day," said Button, under a banner made by Selwood's pupils in honour of his visit which read, 'You have shown us that we can realise our dreams - thank you.'

"Coming back here means so, so much. It's such a strange feeling - to be honest I'm still scared of the teachers, those are the people who know who I really am."

Button's PE teacher Bryan White is still at Selwood and revealed junior Jenson showed no signs of aptitude for sport - but that makes the F1 champion an even better example for the next generation.

"He's a lot sportier looking now than he ever was when he was here," commented White.

"He liked running around but he was never very good at it. That's nice because he wasn't the best but he shows that if you are really passionate and determined you can achieve your goals."

Button's final alma mater, Frome Community College, allowed the teenage driver time off school to pursue his racing career.

His mother Simone Lyons joined her son at the college and stood teary-eyed in the wings as he bantered with the current crop of teenagers about the teachers during three boisterous assemblies.

She said she never questioned the decision to allow Button to focus on racing - although he soon chipped in that his parents still made him do all his homework.

Already a twice national champion, Button would regularly spend long weekends competing on the European kart scene against future F1 rivals Kimi Raikkonen and Anthony Davidson.

"My favourite subject was French and I loved art but I had to give up quite a bit of school," recalled Button, who was visiting the schools as part of a Go Motorsport initiative to encourage young people to get involved in the sport.

"I spent a lot of time abroad so I had that type of schooling, learning about different cultures. My school work did get hurt but it was the right direction for me."

Jenson Button went back to his old schools in Frome, Somerset, on TuesdayButton is aiming to get more children involved in Formula 1

Button left the college with a single GCSE in French - he couldn't sit the rest of his exams because they clashed with the 1996 Karting World Cup, where he finished third.

On his return, the 30-year-old Button was reminded of his former self when he stopped for a private pep-talk with student Josh Brine, a national motocross rider.

"He's a role model for me," said Brine, who is recovering from a nasty crash. "To see him come to the school where I'm at and go through the same path; taking time off for events, breaking bones, going through the struggle and becoming world champion is a real inspiration."

At the final stop on his homecoming - a visit to the Cheese and Grain town hall where he was awarded the freedom of Frome - hundreds turned out to catch a glimpse of the local boy turned world champion.

A relaxed Button interrupted his speech to say hello to friends he picked out in the crowd and merrily defend Fernando Alonso, who had been loudly booed ahead of this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, before putting his swirling autograph through its paces.

"I'd forgotten what Frome is like but I love it," the by now permanently grinning Button said when he finally said farewell.

"It's been pretty hectic lately but I'm going to work hard to get back here more often.

"And you know, I'm not sure the teachers are telling the truth about me being good at school but it's nice of them to say it... and that's just the way Frome is."

You can watch a film about Jenson Button's return to Frome on this weekend's coverage of the Spanish Grand Prix on BBC One. Qualifying coverage starts at 1210 BST on Saturday, with race build-up from 1210 on Sunday.


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