Latin America & Caribbean

Jenson Button unhurt after armed men threaten him

Jenson Button
Image caption Jenson Button was in an armoured car when the attempted attack happened

Formula 1 champion Jenson Button has praised the quick actions of his police driver after gunmen threatened him in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Saturday evening.

Button called him a "legend" for fleeing through traffic after at least three men brandishing machine guns approached.

Button told the Associated Press news agency the situation had been "scary".

He and the others in the car had been returning from practice for Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos.

Brazil's major cities have a bad record for serious crimes of violence.

Button, 30, was travelling in the McLaren-supplied reinforced armoured vehicle back to his hotel with his father John, manager Richard Goddard, and trainer Mike Collier.

All four men were unharmed in the incident.

The reigning world champion, who will start 11th on the grid on Sunday, told AP: "The driver was a legend, a great guy, he got us out of trouble."

At a press conference later, he was reported to have said: "We got in between six cars to get past and got away.

"Looking behind there were two guys with a hand gun and one guy with what looked like a machine gun.

"It was a pretty scary situation - it's not a very comfortable feeling, not great."

Extra security

Mr Goddard said: "We were about three or four minutes away from the circuit when the incident took place.

"I would suggest there were more than four or five guys, something along those lines, who emerged from a block of flats.

"I initially saw one guy carrying this piece of wood, a baseball bat kind of thing, but I didn't spot the one who had a gun until someone pointed it out.

"It was pulled, and that was it really. You didn't really have time to think about what was happening.

"You hear about these kind of things in Sao Paulo, and because they don't come home to roost, you don't think about them. But when it almost happens to you then it's fairly worrying."

He said they were lucky to have a police driver on hand to force his way through the traffic and get them out of what could have been "quite a frightening situation".

The driver was also believed to be armed.

A McLaren spokesperson said: "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."

The spokesperson added the Sao Paulo authorities had also acted efficiently and would provide additional security for Button and other team members on Sunday.

Previous attacks

Three years ago members of Toyota's F1 team escaped a similar situation when they were also approached by gunmen, BBC Formula 1 commentator David Croft said.

Formula 1 commentator Murray Walker told the BBC that gunmen previously had attempted to attack him in the same area.

He said: "There are parts of Sao Paulo which are extremely violent, and [the city] has extremes of great wealth and extreme poverty."

He said parts of the circuit were close to favelas, or shanty towns, where there was a lot of deprivation.

He said: "I suspect that's where it happened to Jenson, and naturally the people who are in the favelas see these obviously very wealthy people driving away from the circuit and they know they've got a lot of money, and they know they've got watches and things on them and that's what they're after presumably."

Former racing driver, Sir Stirling Moss told the BBC kidnap threats were not unexpected as people were aware that drivers earn millions of dollars each year.

"As a driver, you know, I suppose they're quite likely to want to kidnap him and then they demand so many millions. I mean, it's easy for people to read [about] drivers who are making five, 10, $15 million a year, so they ask for five million and they'll probably get it you know - [it's] pretty scary," he said.

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