By Alan Baldwin SAO PAULO, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone dismissed any threat to Brazil’s place on the calendar after world champion Jenson Button and a group of team engineers were caught up in armed attacks.
The 80-year-old Briton, speaking after Button escaped unhurt from an attempted armed carjacking on Saturday, and after three Sauber engineers were robbed at gunpoint outside the Interlagos circuit, said he had never felt threatened in Brazil.
“I’ve been coming here for more than 40 years, not just for the race,” Ecclestone told Reuters on Sunday. “I’ve run on the beach here in the morning early with watches on and never been mugged, never seen anyone being mugged.
“Normally like in America or anywhere you go there are people getting mugged. In London, it’s a funny thing you know — surprising in Oxford Street the number of people that get mugged there hourly,” he declared, referring to the crowded central shopping thoroughfare.
Ecclestone, who got into hot water last year when he suggested Adolf Hitler was a man “who got things done”, said Button might have kept out of trouble by qualifying higher up the grid.
“They look for victims, they look for anyone that looks like a soft touch and not too bright,” said the billionaire, whose current girlfriend is Brazilian.
“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 10 and think well they must be a bit stupid otherwise they would qualify in the top 10 obviously. So they are victims.”
Ecclestone inquired, with feigned ignorance, where McLaren’s Button had qualified.
Told it was 11th, he replied: “There you are you see, I have to rest my case.”
Asked about some in the media questioning the race’s place on the calendar, he said it had never crossed his mind to strike off an event he also promotes.
“What for? In Oxford Street we should have more police,” he said. “People getting mugged all the time.”
Ecclestone’s view was supported by his long-time friend and triple world champion Niki Lauda.
“Are you nuts?,” he told Reuters when asked if the incidents could put the event in jeopardy.
“Every country, different things. It’s normal in life...this is ridiculous. This is one of the best races ever, it’s been on the calendar for years. This is like Monte Carlo to me,” added the Austrian.
“Things like this happen. They can happen in Korea, they can happen in London, everywhere.
“What really happened to Jenson? Nothing. He drove away. And why would you want to rob a racing driver on the way home from the track to the hotel? Racing drivers have no money on them.”
Williams co-owner Patrick Head, who is well-known for his love of Brazil, took a less light-hearted view.
“Obviously it has to be taken seriously,” he told Reuters. “Maybe the police have to be a bit more active outside the circuit but I’ve been coming to Brazil for 30 years and personally have never had a problem.
“The problems do exist but there are certain places in London where it’s not advisable to go driving out. Unfortunately, Interlagos is rather oddly positioned...it’s not in the wealthier part of Sao Paulo.
“If you have these sort of favelas (shanty towns) that I understand the police don’t go into, you’ll have these sort of problems. It’s something Brazil’s got to get on top of.”
Editing by Kevin Fylan; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org