Reflecting back on the 'terrifying' and 'horrendous' incident in which he escaped a gunpoint ambush over the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend, reigning F1 World Champion Jenson Button has insisted that he is 'sure it was a random attack' – but his father John, who was in the car with him at the time of the ordeal, is rather more concerned that his son might have been the deliberate target of a kidnapping gang.
Button Jnr and Snr were in an armoured Mercedes B-Class along with the McLaren-Mercedes star's manager Richard Goddard and trainer Mike Collier when they were approached by 'five or six' men wielding weapons – some machine guns – as they sat in traffic in a favela
(shanty town) on their way from the Interlagos circuit back to their São Paulo hotel at around 7pm on Saturday evening. Virgin rookie Lucas Di Grassi was mugged in the same area last month.
The group were saved only by the quick-thinking reaction of the vehicle's specially-hired undercover police driver – a man specifically-trained in avoidance techniques in just such situations – who barged his way past the queue of stationary cars and enabled Button and his entourage to successfully flee their would-be assailants. The nine-time grand prix-winner later described the driver, Daniel Toni, as an 'absolute legend'.
“We left at about 7:15pm and headed out of the circuit,” he told the BBC
. “About a kilometre away or a little bit less, we rocked up at a set of traffic lights. We couldn't go through the traffic lights – we were about three cars back. We were in an armoured car with a policeman as the driver, an undercover cop – a great guy.
“He obviously didn't feel that comfortable – he stopped about a car's length behind the car in front. We looked to the right and we saw five or six guys walk out of this building; they were just at the edge of the road. They looked a little bit suspicious but I didn't think anything of it until Richard, my manager, saw this guy with a sort of baton hanging down from his arm.
“I looked across a bit more at the guys, and one of them had a gun in his trousers that he was playing with. He looked really uncomfortable, really nervous. I said, '****, he's got a gun!' and then we all started shouting, 'Go, go, go, go!' to the driver. He knew what to do; he put [the car] at an angle to the traffic so we could get through, and then they started running towards the car.
“There were two guys with small handguns along with one guy who had a big gun that looked like a machine gun. The driver saw it and floored it. There wasn't enough room to get through, but he got between six cars, ramming every single one of them to get past. He was almost going over the top of them, bumping and bouncing off them, but eventually we made it. It was like a Hollywood movie.
“The car wasn't that damaged. We had a problem with the front-right suspension, but he could keep driving and it was all okay in the end, but not a very nice feeling. We couldn't drive fast, though, and about a kilometre down the road we found a police car.
“We pulled alongside the police car and told them what the problem was. At this point we had two other cars coming up alongside us, obviously quite angry because we had damaged their cars. As soon as [Toni] told them what had happened they were all fine. At the hotel, they got out of their cars and shook the driver's hand because they knew what a good job he had done. He was an absolute legend.”