Atlas F1 News Service, a Reuters report

Teams Complain After Thefts, Mugging at Interlagos

Friday March 30th, 2001

Minardi protested to Formula One's ruling body on Friday after becoming the latest victims of thieves at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

The disappearance of seven wheel rims from the supposedly secure team garages overnight came a day after team manager Tony Lees was robbed at gunpoint in Sao Paulo.

"We've just written a fairly strongly worded letter to the FIA (International Automobile Federation) about it," team spokesman Graham Jones said of the theft at Interlagos.

"We are deeply upset that this has happened."

It was the second theft of team equipment from inside the paddock compound. The Jaguar team had seven laptop computers stolen from their garages on Wednesday night.

"Seven computers were taken," said spokesman James Thomas, who said one of them had important Cosworth engine data on it which the team had to download again from the factory.

Lees, a Briton from Bath, described how he was held up by armed robbers on Thursday as he left a bank in the city centre.

"I'd gone to change some money in the centre of town and came out of the bank," he said.

"I had a taxi waiting 10 metres away all ready to go, the engine running, and stuffed the money down my shirt.

"I got in the car and half a second later there were three blokes pulling me out of the window and generally roughing me up with a gun to my head.

"They were trying to pull me through the window by my hair and we just fought and fought, I didn't give them the money.

"In the end there was lots of struggling and shouting and screaming and they just ripped my watch off my wrist and took my sunglasses and ran off."

Wheel Theft

Lees, who has been coming to Grand Prix in Brazil for a decade, said it was the first time he had been attacked.

"I think it is a lot worse," he said of the conditions at Interlagos, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo surrounded by poor housing and thick traffic.

"The whole place is crumbling. Every year we come here it has crumbled worse."

Newly installed guttering on the garages collapsed during a thunderstorm on Wednesday, crashing down under the weight of water. Lees said there were nails and rivets in the pit lane which had to be swept clean.

The track was fined $100,000 last year after advertising hoardings collapsed during qualifying, narrowly missing the Prost of Frenchman Jean Alesi.

The theft of the wheel rims was a serious blow to Minardi, since they were all fronts which meant effectively three or four sets of tyres were useless.

"We'll manage, we do have a fallback but again it's a problem that wouldn't happen at Silverstone or anywhere else."

Brazil is the only South American race on the Formula One calendar. Sao Paulo was home to the late world champion Ayrton Senna, who died at Imola in 1994 and is buried here.

British American Racing (BAR) boss Craig Pollock agreed that Brazil would always have a place on the calendar because of the country's Formula One heritage "but it doesn't mean Brazil should be given carte blanche".

The fact that Interlagos follows the Malaysian Grand Prix, held at the state of the art Sepang circuit, also makes Interlagos' facilities stand out.

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