BRISIGHELLA, Italy -- The Bandini Trophy is an unusual award. The winner is chosen by a jury of 12, including the founder of the Minardi F1 team Giancarlo Minardi, and awarded in recognition of a significant improvement over the previous season's racing. It was established in 1992 in memory of Italian racing driver Lorenzo Bandini, who died in a Ferrari at the 1967 Monaco Grand Prix, and in its 25-year history has been awarded to drivers, teams and the son of Enzo Ferrari, Piero.
Nothing too unusual about that, but that's before the lucky recipient is encouraged to collect the award by driving a Formula One car on public roads to Bandini's hometown of Brisighella, in Northern Italy. The route starts in the city centre of nearby Faenza, winds its way through the rolling countryside of the Emilia-Romagna region and ends with a short blast through the narrow streets of Brisighella itself. For the rest of the year the road is populated by tractors and Fiat Pandas, but on the day of the ceremony the police make a cursory effort to limit the amount of civilian traffic along the route.
For the 25th anniversary of the award, Mercedes equipped Bottas with a championship-winning W07 Hybrid to complete the 14-kilometer drive. When the car arrived in Faenza's Piazza del Popolo, the usual Saturday morning market was already in full swing, with fruit, clothing, flowers and local delicacies being traded 50 metres away from the open-air Mercedes garage. It didn't take long for the attention of the locals to be drawn toward the F1 car and a small crowd soon gathered to sneak a glimpse at the machine that took Nico Rosberg to the 2016 world championship, winning 19 of that season's 21 grand prix races along the way.
"It's not a Ferrari, but at least it was designed by an Italian," said one passerby in reference to Mercedes engineer director Aldo Costa, who was also being recognised with an award from the organisers.
By the time Bottas arrived in the afternoon, the market had been packed away and the full focus of the city was on the Silver Arrow sat in the piazza. After visiting the nearby Imola race track to sign autographs for fans attending the Historic Minardi Days, the 28-year-old Finn was welcomed to Faenza's city hall by a fanfare of trumpets. The trumpeters then insisted on following him throughout his preparations, and even a quick trip to the toilet was accompanied by a short blast of appreciation.
With Bottas suited and booted, the police readied an escort and checked the local train timetable to ensure a level crossing halfway along the route was clear. To the crowd's delight, the W07 was finally fired up and the masses of spectators parted to create an exit route to the southwest of the piazza in the direction of Brisighella.
The authorities' attempts to stop traffic accessing the route had not been entirely successful however, and cars, vans and cyclists whizzed past in the opposite direction along the country road. Much to the delight of the Carabinieri leading the procession, speeds had to be kept high enough to feed the W07's radiators with fresh air and prevent the V6 turbo and its hybrid system from overheating.
A support van full of Mercedes mechanics and engineers stayed in constant radio communication with Bottas to keep him informed of the various obstacles along the route, which included an elderly gentleman -- also travelling in the direction of Brisighella -- driving a transporter for a classic car. The convoy made quick work of both car and trailer when an opportunity presented itself on one the short straights, adding an unexpected overtake to Bottas' achievements for the day.
His arrival in Brisighella was met with cheers and yet more fanfare as the W07 pulled up in front of a small stage, on which the award -- a rather striking pottery sculpture of Bandini's Ferrari -- stood awaiting presentation. As he climbed out of the car, a bunch of security guards dressed in medieval costume created a human shield around him and helped the Mercedes driver pick a route through the enthusiastic locals to the stage. This being Italy however, the formalities were meticulously drawn out over several hours and it was not until the early evening that Bottas finally got his hands on the trophy.
"This is a big honour," Bottas said. "I saw the list of drivers who received the Bandini Trophy before. There are some really impressive names on that list -- just think of the total amount of championships these people have won.
"So I feel very honoured to now be a Bandini winner myself. I had some good moments last year and it's nice to be recognised for those. Driving the 2016 car on the roads just added to the excitement of this great day."
Also recognised with awards were Costa, Mercedes engineer Riccardo Musconi, F1 journalist Jonathan Noble and F1 photographer Steve Etherington.