SAO PAULO, (Reuters) – Formula One world champion Jenson Button escaped unhurt after an attempted armed attack on his car as he left the Brazilian Grand Prix circuit yesterday, his McLaren team said.
“On Saturday evening on the way back from the Interlagos circuit to Morumbi (Sao Paulo), armed would-be assailants made an attempt to approach the car that was carrying Jenson Button,” they said in a statement.
“Neither Jenson nor the other occupants of the car were hurt,” it added.
McLaren said Button was quickly driven away from danger by an armed policeman trained in avoidance techniques who was at the wheel of the reinforced armoured vehicle provided by the team.
“The police driver of Jenson’s vehicle reacted swiftly and, using avoidance techniques, rapidly forced his way through the traffic, taking Jenson and the other occupants of the car immediately away from any danger and back to their hotel.”
Button’s father John, his manager Richard Goddard and physiotherapist Mike Collier were also in the car.
McLaren said the Sao Paulo authorities had acted efficiently and would be providing additional security to transfer Button and other senior team personnel to the circuit for today’s penultimate race of the season.
Teams are always on the watch for attempted armed attacks on members leaving the circuit after previous incidents over the years despite a strong police presence.
Although the area around Interlagos has become more built up over the years there are still favelas, or shanty towns, in the vicinity while Sao Paulo is a sprawling city with one of the highest crime rates in South America.
Members of the Toyota team were ambushed at gunpoint four years ago as they left the circuit, with shots fired by a gang of youths who also tried to kick in their car windows. None suffered any injury.
Button had earlier qualified 11th on the starting grid, with his four title rivals well ahead of him and his hopes of retaining the title likely to be extinguished this afternoon.
“Before, there was a slither of hope of retaining the championship but now it’s gone, it’s basically impossible,” the Briton had told reporters.