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F1 drivers not concerned about safety in Brazil

- Associated Press - Thursday, November 24, 2011

SAO PAULO (AP) - Formula One drivers are not worried about their safety heading into Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix, despite Jenson Button's confrontation with armed men a year ago outside the Interlagos track in South America's biggest city.

The attack on Button has not prompted significant changes to increase their safety in Brazil this year, teams and drivers said Thursday. Even the British driver said he was not too concerned about returning to the South American country after the frightening experience he went through a year ago.

Button's father, John, who was also in the car attacked by gunmen in 2010, said they were "not living in fear" because of what happened last year.

Button, his father and his physiotherapist had left the track after qualifying when a group of armed men attempted to attack their armored Mercedes. They escaped thanks to evasive maneuvers by the car's driver, an undercover local police officer.

The McLaren driver said it was one of the scariest moments of his life and that it was frightening to have a gun pointed at him, but he wanted to leave the attack in the past and only focus on racing this year.

Speaking briefly outside the McLaren office in Interlagos, he said there were "no changes" at all to his routine this year.

His father said he never thought about not coming to Brazil to accompany his son just because of last year's attack.

"It didn't even cross our minds," he said. "We are not living in fear. There hasn't been any problems at all."

He said, however, that there have been minor changes to the safety measures surrounding his son and other McLaren team members, including the addition of a local police car escorting them to the track.

"I think all the drivers have got a police car tracking them in," John Button said. "I think they've got it all covered."

Red Bull's Mark Webber said nothing has changed for him, not even on his way to Interlagos using the same streets where the Buttons were attacked in 2010.

"I'm still driving to the track on my own," he said. "No changes for me."

Webber's teammate, reigning two-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, said it's the sixth consecutive season he has been coming to Brazil and doesn't think anything needs to be done differently from previous years.

"Surely you don't want something like that to happen," he said. "But I don't think you need to be in Brazil (for it to happen). It can happen to you somewhere else around the planet, so I don't think we really need to be concerned. Nothing changed."

Jenson Button and his party had left the track at about 7 p.m. local time after Saturday's qualifying and the attack happened when their car stopped at a traffic light a little more than a half mile from the track. They escaped unhurt thanks to the undercover police officer driving the car, who swiftly led them out of traffic by ramming through several vehicles and speeding to safety.

That same night, three Sauber engineers were robbed just outside the Interlagos track, and both attacks significantly heightened security concerns in the country preparing to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Attacks on drivers who stop at traffic lights or slow their cars in areas with intense traffic are not uncommon in Brazil, although no incidents have been reported near the track so far this year.

Virtually all teams provide their drivers and crew with armored vehicles to use on the trip from their hotels to the track. They also often provide drivers trained in avoidance techniques.

Sao Paulo state police said nearly 4,000 police officers have been deployed to maintain public safety near the Interlagos track this year. It wasn't immediately clear if that was more than in 2010.

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