Honda F1 chief hopeful of buyer rescuing team

  • By Rob Harris Associated Press
  • Friday, December 5, 2008 4:26pm
  • SportsSports

LONDON — Honda’s Formula One team hopes to find a buyer and race again in 2009 despite the Japanese manufacturer’s decision to quit the sport.

Honda pulled out Friday amid the global economic slowdown, saying it needs to focus on its core business. Honda CEO Takeo Fukui said in Tokyo that the company was open to selling the team.

Honda’s F1 chief executive Nick Fry said three prospective buyers had expressed interest in taking over the team, which is based in Brackley, central England, and employs 700 people.

“We’re still hoping to be there in Melbourne,” Fry said of F1’s season-opening race. “This is a completely different situation from prior Formula One teams stopping. This team is one of the best funded, has the best assets, the best resources in the pit lane.”

The 2009 season opens with the Australian Grand Prix on March 29. Honda’s absence would leave nine teams on the starting grid.

“We have got aspirations to be at the front of the grid and we want to find people who have the same ambitions,” Fry said. “We have good grounds for being very optimistic.”

But FIA president Max Mosley, head of the sport’s world governing body, warned that without drastic cost-cutting, Honda would struggle to attract sponsors or a buyer.

And F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said spiraling costs have to be reined in if the sport wants to survive the recession.

“This is a wake-up call,” Ecclestone said. “If you and I wanted to run a Formula One team, we wouldn’t need to have to spend what they are spending at the moment — probably 200 million pounds a year to do it.

“The trouble is the teams are basically run by technicians who should probably be at home playing with their PlayStations rather than spending fortunes to win races.”

Mosley said teams must stop investing huge sums of money to gain the “tiniest advantage.”

“It’s been obvious for a long time that if you employ between 700 and 1,000 people just to put to two cars on the grid 18 times a year that’s not rational and sustainable and when you get a credit crunch it becomes a disastrous scenario,” Mosley said. “If we don’t cut costs we would lose one team after another and we would end up with no teams at all. If the teams don’t notice now what’s happened, you have to abandon all hope.

“If they don’t wake up to it now, they’ll probably get a nasty shock in the future.”

Honda originally entered F1 in the 1960s before returning as an engine supplier in the 1980s and then buying out BAR Racing in 2005.

Honda finished ninth in the 2008 constructors’ world championship, with Rubens Barrichello 14th in the drivers’ standings with 11 points and Jenson Button 18th with just three.

“It was as much a shock for me as it was for anyone else,” Button told mechanics in the Brackley workshop Friday. “The first couple of hours were the most painful, but after that I thought, ‘What is the point of being down and trying to look at every reason for it? It’s not going to change.’”

Button reportedly earns $29 million a year, even though he has won only one race for the team, in Hungary in 2006.

“We need to stay positive in ourselves and as one team, because if we are not who is going to be interested in taking it over?” the 28-year-old said.

Button’s car is already at an advanced stage and ahead of its rivals as preparations continue for the Australian GP, according to team principal Ross Brawn.

“If we can find that investor they won’t find a better opportunity than this,” he said.

Ecclestone and Mosley are trying to push through cost-cutting measures, primarily a standardized engine to be supplied by Cosworth, and transmission from Xtrac and Ricardo from 2010.

“The average guy in the street doesn’t care how many cylinders the car has, doesn’t know, or what the capacity of the engine is, doesn’t care,” Ecclestone said. “We are in the business of entertainment and we should be building race cars to race.”

Eddie Jordan, the former owner of Jordan Grand Prix, said F1 giants Ferrari and McLaren have a responsibility to “rein in their costs.”

“They will still win but they have to give other teams a better chance,” he said.

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