Security in and around Sao Paulo, site of Sunday’s Brazil Grand Prix, will be tighter, Formula 1 officials promise, following an incident that saw members of four-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes crew held up at gunpoint.
“Heavy police reinforcements will be on duty for the remainder of the event,” the International Automobile Federation, which governs F1 racing, said in a statement on Saturday (via Reuters), a day after the hold-up that Hamilton described on social media.
“Some of my team were held up at gunpoint last night leaving the circuit here in Brazil,” Hamilton wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning. “Gun shots fired, gun held at one’s head. This is so upsetting to hear. Please say a prayer for my guys who are here as professionals today even if shaken.”
While saddened by the incident that Mercedes said resulted in the theft of valuables but no injuries, Hamilton indicated he was not surprised.
“This happens every single year here,” he wrote in a followup tweet. “F1 and the teams need to do more, there’s no excuse!”
Hamilton may not have been exaggerating when he said armed robberies happen every year. Other drivers have said the same thing, including 2009 F1 champion Jenson Button, who was held up with his crew along the same stretch of road as Hamilton’s crew in 2010.
“You hear about it happening over the years but you don’t know how it feels until it happens to you,” Button said (via the Guardian) at the time about the dangerous section of road that winds through some of Sao Paulo’s poorest and most notoriously dangerous favelas.
Unlike Hamilton’s crew, Button was able to escape the scene thanks to a quick-thinking chauffeur, who was at the wheel of the team’s minibus that day.
“He angled the car and floored it,” Button recalled of his team’s dramatic escape. “He went between six cars and rammed every single car just to get past. We got through in the end, but looking behind there were two guys with handguns — quite a simple looking handgun — and one guy with a machine gun.”
The Brazil Grand Prix, while considered one of the most dangerous in terms of crime threat, isn’t the only location on the circuit that has been the scene of violent incidents.
Ahead of last year’s Mexico Grand Prix, a Mercedes crew member and driver became the targets of another armed robbery. The two victims came away physically unharmed, but surrendered wallets and valuables to the gunmen.
To prevent further incidents, FIA officials reminded teams on Saturday to travel to and from F1 tracks as inconspicuously as possible, meaning in plain clothes and unmarked vehicles.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff hopes that, along with increased police presence, will be enough.
“We shouldn’t be needing armed vehicles, bulletproof cars, agents in order to make it safe from the race track to the hotel,” he said (via Autosport). “But then this is the circumstances and maybe our approach in the past was a bit lenient; easy, because Brazil is a cool country.”
The Brazil Grand Prix is set to begin at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, and will air on NBC Sports. Hamilton, who failed to qualify because of a crash in the earlier rounds, has already secured the 2017 world title, his fourth since 2008.