ABU DHABI // The main accolades at last night's Laureus World Sports Awards went the way of the absent Usain Bolt and Serena Williams but there was no doubting who the star of a glitzy and glamorous occasion at the Emirates Palace hotel was. Jenson Button being acclaimed at the ripe old age of 30 as the winner of the Breakthrough of the Year award and capping that honour by helping his former BrawnGP employers to the Team of the Year prize thrilled an audience of famous names from the world of sport and showbiz.
The 2009 Formula One champion was as delighted as those who applauded him to his double success. "Thirty years old and I'm making a breakthrough - I'm so excited," he said. "It's an odd title for me because I have been around for quite a while but in a way it feels as though I have just arrived." Button, who will this weekend in Bahrain launch his new partnership with Lewis Hamilton, his fellow Briton and predecessor as drivers' champion at McLaren, stayed as long as he dared before being whisked away to catch his midnight flight to Manama.
"I am hoping that we are going to put on a great show at Sakhir," he said, confident that he will be able to establish a productive working relationship with Hamilton. "It is interesting working with Lewis," he added. "We get on really well. We have the same goal but we know that for either of us to achieve that we have to beat the other one. "But the important thing is that we have to share information and work closely. You haven't got a chance if you don't work together as teammates because it is so competitive now in Formula One, especially this season.
"It's going to be a very tough campaign and if there are any slip-ups or disagreements between teammates then it's going to be very difficult to be at the front fighting. "We both want to fight for the world championship. To do that we have to work together. I know Lewis very well. He is an exceptional driver. "He has achieved a lot in his short career so there is a lot of information that we can now share. We should work well together. But whatever happens it is going to be a belter of a year."
Button, who finished third behind Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel on his first appearance in Abu Dhabi last November, enjoyed his return visit to the UAE capital so much that he is now setting his sights on winning the main award that has gone to Roger Federer four times this decade and was won for the second time last night by the Jamaican sprinter, Bolt. "Looking at the people who are looking for the main male award is phenomenal," Button remarked. "It's going to be tough to break into that kind of company."
Bolt got up early yesterday morning in his native Jamaica to make his acceptance speech by satellite link. Speaking initially to the Laureus Academy chairman, Ed Moses, Bolt then tried to conduct interviews with the media on a frustrating time delay but managed to deliver the clear message that he is not going to rest on his laurels in 2010 after winning three Olympic gold medals in 2008 and three World Championships golds in 2009.
"I have got to the stage where I know how to keep winning races," he warned. "Now it's a question of staying focused. I want to keep winning championships and breaking records." At least Bolt made an effort to acknowledge those who had bestowed another prestigious honour on him. Serena Williams, winner of the Sportswoman of the Year despite her appalling behaviour at the US Open in September, failed to make an appearance either in person or on screen.
Kim Clijsters, the Belgian who beat her at Flushing Meadows that day, was another absentee but she sent a message of apology for her non-appearance to collect the Comeback of the Year statuette. Natalie Du Toit, the South African swimmer, received a moving ovation from the auditorium for topping the poll for the Disability Award, while the top Australian surfer, Stephanie Gilmore, could not conceal her delight at taking the Action Sports award. @Email:email@example.com