Sports News

Sauber F1 engineers robbed at gunpoint

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Three Sauber engineers were robbed at gunpoint shortly after Formula One world champion Jenson Button escaped unhurt from a similar attack at the Brazilian Grand Prix, the team said on Sunday.

“They left the track, three engineers together in a van, at around 8 p.m. (on Saturday),” a spokesman said.

“They had to stop at the red light and then all of a sudden five people were around the car, one with a machine gun, and they opened the door and took two rucksacks and disappeared. So nobody was injured.”

McLaren’s Button was the victim of an attempted armed robbery about an hour earlier but his police driver smashed his way through traffic to escape when the gunmen were seen approaching.

Button told reporters on his arrival at the circuit that he was fine but shaken by the incident.

“You hear about it happening over the years but until you are actually involved you don’t know how it feels,” he said. “It’s a pretty scary situation because initially you don’t believe it’s happening.

“It’s a horrible thing to happen.

“I feel fine now. there’s a lot of attention because it’s the first time it’s been a driver that’s been held up but hopefully it will show the dangers that are down there and we’ll take more care,” said Button.

“From what I hear most of the drivers have got a police escort into the circuit (today) as a well as a bullet proof car and policeman as a driver.”


Button, still just in mathematical contention for the title ahead of the penultimate race of the season, said his bullet-proof Mercedes -- with blacked-out windows -- had pulled up at a traffic light outside the circuit.

Sitting in the front passenger seat, he noticed a group of men loitering suspiciously by the side of the road at the entrance to one of the buildings that masks the shanty town behind.

“Richard (Goddard, his manager) noticed one had a baton hanging down from his arm and I noticed that one guy was playing around with something in his trousers and it was a gun,” said Button.

“As soon as I said that, the driver looked across and they saw him look and started running towards the car. So we floored the car, it didn’t look like there was a big enough space but we got between six cars and just rammed every single car to get past and got through and away.”

“Looking behind there were two guys with handguns and one guy with what looked like a machine gun,” said the driver.

Teams are always on the watch for attempted armed attacks on members leaving the circuit after previous incidents in Sao Paulo, a sprawling city with one of the highest crime rates in South America.

Petty theft is also a problem, with stories of stolen bags and wallets doing the rounds of the paddock. Two photographers also had expensive lenses go missing from their room at the circuit.

“We just take sensible precautions travelling to and from the circuit, we don’t leave passes visible and don’t wear team shirts,” said a Toro Rosso spokesman when asked what measures they took.

Editing by Kevin Fylan; To query or comment on this story email