In the wake of the attempted armed carjacking on reigning F1 World Champion Jenson Button at the weekend – or potentially even something more sinister altogether – the sport's commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone has been quick to dismiss speculation that the Brazilian Grand Prix's traditional slot on the annual calendar is at risk, insisting São Paulo is 'as safe as anywhere in the world'.
Amidst suggestions that the failed ambush on Button was in actual fact a kidnap plot orchestrated by a local drugs gang [see separate story – click here
] – and in the knowledge that a group of Sauber engineers, officials from Ecclestone's own company Formula One Management (FOM) and several members of the media were similarly attacked, all like the McLaren-Mercedes star thankfully escaping unharmed – there have been many who have questioned how Interlagos can continue to justify its place on the schedule in the light of recent events.
Dangerous incidents in what is widely-regarded to be one of the world's most violent cities are unfortunately nothing new around F1 time in São Paulo, a city in which extremes of wealth and poverty are only too evident. However, revealing that it had never crossed his mind to remove the race from the calendar and that such occurrences should be kept in perspective, British billionaire Ecclestone told Reuters
that he personally had never felt threatened in Brazil, despite the car in which he travels in the country benefitting from armoured protection and a specially-trained driver…
“I've been coming here for more than 40 years, not just for the race,” asserted the recently-turned 80-year-old, whose current girlfriend Fabiana Flosi is Brazilian. “I have walked around, driven, been out in restaurants in the city and never seen or heard anything threatening. I've run on the beach here early in the morning with a watch on and never been mugged, never seen anyone being mugged. I've never, ever had a problem – it's as safe here as anywhere in the world.
“Normally like in America or anywhere you go there are people getting mugged. In London, it's a funny thing you know – it's surprising in Oxford Street the number of people that get mugged there hourly… We should have more police there.”
The FOM chief executive then went on to mischievously claim that Button might have saved himself the entire harrowing ordeal had he only qualified higher up the grid on Saturday.
“They look for victims, they look for anyone that looks like a soft touch and not too bright,” he contended. “The people that look a bit soft and simple, they will always have a go at. I think here for the race weekend they probably watch TV and see who's not qualified in the top ten and think, 'well they must be a bit stupid otherwise they would qualify in the top ten obviously'. So they are victims.”
The sport's supremo subsequently inquired as to where Button had qualified, and when told it was eleventh, he replied: “There you are, you see, I have to rest my case.”
Ever-outspoken former triple F1 World Champion Niki Lauda backed Ecclestone's staunch defence of the Brazilian Grand Prix, but Williams' esteemed executive director of engineering Patrick Head – normally a self-proclaimed fan of the country – was less willing to simply forgive and forget quite so easily.