JANUARY 21, 2002
Is Sao Paulo a city where F1 should be racing?
Crime in Sao Paulo has become a very serious issue in recent weeks and the murder of one of the mayors of one of the communes close to the city on Sunday has once again brought home to Brazilians just how dangerous the city has become since the autumn.
The Brazilian government promised "vigorous action" and condemned "the degree of violence and arrogance of the assailants" and the local government offered a reward of $20,000 for information but this is not going to stop the kidnapping and killing which has swept the city in recent months.
The terrifying statistics have been published recently revealing that kidnappings in the state increased four-fold in 2001 with more than five kidnappings a week. The gangs have become increasingly daring. Last week, for example, a housewife was killed outside her own house after her family failed to find the ransom being demanded.
The authorities are talking about increasing the number of policemen on the streets but the problem is likely to remain as long as the very rich live close to the very poor.
Nine months ago, when things were a little calmer, there were nonetheless several crimes committed against F1 personnel including the theft of seven computers from Jaguar Racing and wheel rims from Minardi. In addition Minardi team manager Tony Lees was robbed at gunpoint and several other attempted robberies were reports by F1 team members travelling to and from the track. In all cases they drove away from their assailants before anything occurred.
Very few people in Formula 1 want to visit Interlagos and there is constant annoyance that Interlagos is allowed to get away with poor facilities. Major work is going to be needed on the pit buildings and the infrastructure of the circuit but the new promoters are already saying that they cannot afford to do it all.
The decision-makers in F1 are not regularly seen at such unfashionable spots as Interlagos and so they do not perhaps appreciate the urge of most of the F1 circus not to have to visit Sao Paulo. Team members are worried that decisions may not be made until F1 has suffered a serious crime against one of its number...
The problem, of course, is that without Interlagos there is no South American race. Argentina is a mess and no other country has yet stepped forward to host an event - at least not seriously.