Wave of killings sweeps city as Vettel and Alonso prepare for their thrilling championship decider By Tom Cary in Sao Paulo Formula One's teams and drivers will not be taking any chances with security at this weekend's season finale in Brazil as a wave of violence sweeps the city of Sao Paulo.
Around 260 people have been killed in the past 40 days alone as police wage what is believed to be an undeclared war with a criminal gang known as the PCC, or First Command of the Capital. Although the violence appears to be mostly confined to the favelas — the shanty towns — it nevertheless contributes to the vague sense of unease that always accompanies races in Brazil. Formula One personnel arriving at Sao Paulo's international airport yesterday morning were greeted by the news that five more people had been killed overnight, leading to the resignation of the official in charge of public security.
And while excitement is building at the prospect of the drama in store at Interlagos this weekend, with Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso vying to be crowned world champion, Lewis Hamilton competing in his final race for McLaren, and Mercedes' Michael Schumacher competing in his final race ever, security is also high on the agenda.
There have been numerous unsavoury incidents over the years. A group of Toyota personnel were held up at gunpoint in 2006, while in 2010 Jenson Button's black Mercedes B-class was ambushed by machine-gun wielding robbers outside the entrance to the favela which lines the route to Interlagos. Button's police-trained driver managed to bounce the car off a line of stationary vehicles and away to safety, but a group of Sauber mechanics were not so lucky, being forced to hand over all their possessions.
Button said he would be taking all relevant precautions. "We are having armoured vehicles and a police escort," the 2009 world champion said. "We had them last year after what happened the year before. I have them, as do Lewis and Whippy [McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh]." While sunshine greeted Formula One's early arrivals yesterday, heavy rain is forecast for the weekend, -making Vettel's job that bit harder.
The 25 year-old, holding a 13-point advantage over Alonso going into the weekend, needs to finish in the top four to ensure that he becomes the sport's youngest triple champion. But Alonso can still claim his third title if he finishes on the podium and Vettel is down the field. "If he was up against any other opponent, I would say that Sebastian would definitely win being 13 points ahead," said former world champion Damon Hill.
"But you cannot write off an opponent like Fernando. He is such a clever driver and he always seems to pull off something extraordinary. Yes, Vettel has an advantage, no question. But if I had to put a percentage on it, I would say the odds are 65 to 35 in favour of Vettel."