This was very quick sequence of events. First less than 2 days ago Nick Fry announced there will be no posh lunch with media, then Shuhei Nakamoto (blamed by many for the uncompetitve 2007 car) left the team. Half a day later rumours about something serious going on at Honda surfaced. By late last night it was open secret that Honda is planning a pull out from Formula One. Now it is official, Honda is yet again leaving the sport.
Although surprising (there was not much talk about Honda considering departure from F1) this step is rather logical. Honda spent huge money on their Formula 1 program but they never really made it.
Their best season was 2004 as engine supplier to BAR. BAR finished 2nd in constructors table and Button 3rd in drivers championship. The highlight of Honda team came in 2006 with Jenson Button’s win in Hungary. It all looked well then and future was bright. But then came crashing down to the back of the grid with uncompetitive 2007 car. And at the back they remained in 2008 too. What is the point being the biggest spender in F1 when the only team they could compete with was Force India running on shoestring budget … Add the dramatic drop in car sales and who can blame Honda for the decision they took … So from chasing Alonso’s signature the team now moves to chasing buyers … From hoping to return to the top with the new rules and new car in 2009 it is now about the fight for survival of what used to be one of the biggest spenders in Formula 1…
If Honda were the isolated case this withdrawal should not mean that much. The team is still there, all it needs is a buyer and an engine supplier. Unlike in case of Toro Rosso or Super Aguri, Honda is (was) a proper racing team with all the infrastructure and building their own cars. So whoever would buy the team would have a decent foundation to build on. And if Honda’s top brass has decided to shut the operation down anyway if no buyer is found they may be ready to simply “give the team away” as long as someone is ready to run it. Media have been already speculating that Ross Brawn may be working on engine deal with his old buddies in Ferrari, some potenatial investors are also said to be on the horizon.
The main thing that the team is now missing is serious funding from sources other than Honda. For past 2 years Honda went in rather weird direction painting their cars green and removing all the sponsors from the livery. Having an army of sponsors lined up would sure make the search for a buyer easier. There have been reports that Petrobras may be coming on board. But that was to have something to do with Petrobras’ new business activities in Japan. There may not be much Japanese connection left in what used to be Honda F1 team …
The major problem for Honda and for Formula One however may be that this is not an isolated case. There have been doubts about Renault’s long term commitment to F1 for quite a while. Would Toyota still have the motivation now when their main local rival is out ? Moreover Toyota issued an ultimatum during last season giving the team a deadline for getting some results. And that was when in general the times were still good. With hard times falling on the global car industry more manufacturers may follow Honda’s example. And the announcements may be as sudden as the one from Honda.
To add some fuel to the fire these problems are not limited to car manufacturers only. Toro Rosso is up for sale, Williams is not in the best situation with main bulk of its sponsorship money coming from almost bankrupt Iceland. Then there are the likes of RBS, Credit Suisse, ING – all major F1 sponsors, all facing tough times.
But is this all bad news ? It may well be. But it also may serve as a wake up call to all those who are in charge of Formula One today. Maybe this sudden and not exactly expected pull out of a major car manufacturer from F1 is the best thing happened to the sport in a long long time. Formula 1 was not always a sport of car manufacturers …
Photos: Honda Racing F1
Last time a manufacturer quit Formula 1 was Ford at the end of 2004 season. That move affected not one but 3 teams. Ford owned Jaguar and Ford powered Minardi and Jordan. Already that time there were speculations some teams may have to run 3 cars to keep the grid decently filled with 20 cars. It all worked out that time. Red Bull took over Jaguar, Toyota supplied Jordan with engines and after the Americans took over Cosworth Minardi had their engines.