The F1 chief's mother-in-law was rescued in Cotia, São Paulo, by the city's anti-kidnap division who burst into the building, who found her bound up but unharmed. Helicopter pilot and 'mastermind' of the plot, Jorge Eurico da Silva Faria was arrested after going to hospital for treatment after a motorbike accident. Police stopped him on the street as he limped back to the flat on crutches where 67-year-old Schunk was being kept prisoner.

Police were able to trace phonecalls and emails the gang made while negotiating terms. Azevedo gave them an opportunity to make the arrest when he went to hospital for treatment of a leg injury he sustained on his motorbike. They picked him up on the street as he hobbled back on crutches. He then led them to the flat where the mother of Ecclestone's wife, Fabiana Flosi, was held captive.

Two of the other gang members – Vitor Oliveira Amorim, 19, and Davi Vicente Azevedo, 23 – were also arrested. The pair were known to police as petty criminals.

Schunk was taken from her home after the kidnappers gained access, claiming to be delivery men. Police suspect there may have been inside information that the retired civil servant was expecting the arrival of furniture she had ordered.

The kidnappers then made a series of errors including leaving fingerprints in Schunk's Ford Fiesta car and then were oblivious that they were filmed by a traffic camera when they switched cars, according to Globo News.

Police are still searching for other possible members of the gang who are still at large by questioning Amorim and Azevedo. Schunk, who was unhurt, had an emotional reunion with relatives at the police station. When asked about her ordeal, she told reporters: "I only ask that the bad guys do not abduct anyone else in São Paulo because they will be arrested."

Elisabete Sato, of Sao Paulo police, told the BBC that the £28m ransom, believed to be the biggest in Brazilian history, had not been paid.