There has been a lot of “news” and rumours surrounding the future of the Honda team these days. That had to be expected having in mind that we are now less than 40 days away from the start of 2009 season and the team’s future is yet to be sorted out. Here is brief summary and some thoughts on the takeover by Virgin Group talk.
First the story came out that Senna will race and Petrobras with few Senna’s personal sponsors would help to fund the team. This has been a false alarm. In contrary, Petrobras confirmed they will not sponsor the new team despite planned sponsorship of Honda F1 (before Honda’s withdrawal). The company was only interested in cooperation with manufacturer and as all the manufacturers in F1 already have their fuel partners Petrobras is leaving F1 (at least for now).
Senna himself denied any deal with Honda is in place. He still hopes however he would get the chance with ex-Honda. He would however be ready to grab the opportunity should it come his way even if it meant jumping in F1 with almost zero testing mileage and racing around the wrong end of the pack.
Around the same time Bernie Ecclestone himself has been also mentioned as one of the potential saviours of Honda F1 operation. While it is difficult to imagine Ecclestone putting his own money into the team he does have some potentially helpful financial tools in hand like for example advancing the TV money (as he did in Williams case).
Both the above rumours were linked to the management buyout of the Honda F1 team, the only option that seemed to be on cards despite the alleged dozen parties interested in purchase of the team. Some people who took the team to the back of the grid probably knew they would have no future there unless they get to own the team…
Then however new rumours begun to circulate talking about a last minute high profile bidder.
That high profile party is said to be Virgin Group of Richard Branson. Virgin so far made no official comment on this. Pitpass claims to have learned that it was not Virgin bidding for Honda but Honda (or the team management) contacting Virgin.
Will Whitehorn, Virgin Group’s Brand Development and Corporate Affairs Director:
“I don’t think Sir Richard would be interested in all honesty as he has only been to a handful of F1 GPs and Virgin have never been a sponsor in that field. I don’t think much apart from the fact that I believe Virgin Group was approached by Honda recently. I doubt the appetite will be that enormous given that Virgin recently took over sponsorship of the London marathon.”
According to today’s story from BBC it does look like Virgin Group is indeed one of the parties talking with Honda. Honda spokesman:
“We are negotiating with several buyers and one of these parties is the Virgin Group.”
It is rather carefully crafted statement that does not really say much. Yes, it may mean that Virgin Group is interested in taking over Honda F1 team. But it may also mean that Honda contacted Virgin Group with “Would you be interested ?” question and is still waiting for some reply… The only cause for optimism here is that unlike Petrobras, no one from Virgin came out so far to rule out any chance of them getting involved in F1.
Of course it did not take long for further rumours surrounding the alleged Virgin bid to appear. Some are already connecting Takuma Sato with the race drive as he is sponsored by Virgin Atlantic Japan. There are also speculations about current top management being replaced by team lead by Adrian Reynard who’s company designed the first BAR car and who still owns the land Honda’s Brackley facility uses. These however may also be just rumours created only because both Sato and Reynard have links with Virgin and Branson…
And one final note – It is interesting that while Nick Fry has been the face behind the management buyout bid we haven’t heard anything from Ross Brawn for quite a while. As Pitpass mentioned few days back Ross Brawn has been silent since his claims the Ferrari engine supply (already ruled out by Ferrari) is very much a done deal…
Update February 19, 2009:
Fresh words from Honda – spokesman Hiroyuki Murase to The Associated Press:
“It’s true that we are pursuing several potential buyers. But the team may still have to be disbanded if the negotiations fail.”
Words from Bernie Ecclestone on the management buyout and the possible Virgin arrival in F1:
“I know about the management buyout. But if Virgin are interested and people say they want the same management, then that’s great too.”
“We would welcome them with open arms. He’s exactly the type of person we would want in the sport. Sir Richard Branson is a wonderful guy. I met him at Monza last year and we got on very well.”
In the meantime the word is that Mercedes wants to see the money for the season long engine supply and the deadline is said to be this coming Monday.