The Formula One world champion Jenson Button and his entourage narrowly evaded an armed gang ambushing their car in São Paulo on the eve of yesterday's Brazilian grand prix.
Men brandishing machine guns attempted to ambush Button when he was being drive back to hotel with his father, John, manager and trainer.
The gang emerged from a block of flats adjacent to a busy road about four minutes' drive from the circuit as the car carrying Button approached. Seeing they were armed with baseball bats and machine guns, the police driver quickly accelerated and forced the car through the group.
Button suggested the group was attacked by six men, while Richard Goddard, his manager, said they were set upon by four or five people. Button said: "We were going back from the track and were outside a shanty town and moving slowly on a busy road. I said 'isn't that a gun?' and as soon as I said that, the driver angled the car and floored it. That's when we saw six men, all of them brandishing machine guns. My driver was a legend. He bounced off about five cars. We were driving over the top of them. It was very scary."
It is thought the bandits might have been tipped off by an accomplice working at the Interlagos track.
The attack, at 7pm local time, shook Button, 30, the night before the penultimate race of the 2010 F1 world championship, in which he finished fifth.
McLaren had assigned a police driver with a reinforced armoured vehicle to protect the team during their time in São Paulo, known for its gun crime. Button usually prefers to drive himself to and from the circuit.
Mr Goddard said: "You hear about these kind of things in São Paulo and because they don't come home to roost, you don't think about them. But then when it almost happens to you then it's fairly worrying. We were really lucky to have a police driver looking after us."
São Paulo officials put Button under extra protection yesterday as he travelled to and from the circuit. Armed police were positioned every 50 metres around the circuit perimeter.
Brazil suffers from one of the highest gun crime rates in the world. More than 7,000 vehicles were armoured in 2008 for civilians worried by the risk of ambushes. Members of the Toyota team were ambushed in São Paulo six years ago.
Vettel takes fourth triumph of season in Brazil Sport, page 15Reuse content