OCTOBER 20, 2008
The driver market has settled down in recent weeks, largely because it is not the most important thing on the minds of the F1 team bosses, who are trying to handle the political negotiations going on, and the economic turmoil in the financial markets. The drivers themselves are keeping quiet because they recognise that now is not a good time to be making too much noise as it is fairly clear that salaries in F1 will be coming down in the years ahead as the money supply tightens. The major question at the moment is whether Fernando Alonso will stay at Renault and all the signs are that this is what will happen, unless the market is destabilised by Kimi Raikkonen leaving Ferrari. This seems to have become less likely with the Italian team taking a long-term view and hoping that the Finn will come back stronger next year. At the moment this is not the priority as the team is trying to win the World Championship and so all talks about the future are not going to happen until the season is ended.
Alonso is not planning to make any announcements until it is clear what will happen but at the same time his choice seems to have narrowed down considerably. And Honda is not belived to be on the list. The qustion therefore is what will happen with the team next year. Jenson Button will definitely stay and we hear that Rubens Barrichello has been arguing hard that he too should be retained as the team needs his experience and motivation. The option would be to keep Barrichello for one more year and train up a suitable replacement in the course of 2009. The man that Japan would like to see in the car is Bruno Senna, as the links between the Senna name and Honda are strong. However others argue that Bruno is not Ayrton and that marketing should be based on the achievements. The race team will go with whatever Japan decides but is believed to be arguing that it is best to look for the best drivers rather than the drivers with the best names. There is a deal in place for Petrobras to join Honda next year, but the Brazilian oil giant does not have any say in the choice of drivers, although obviously a Brazilian would be useful.
However Petrobras is more interested in the Honda deal because it will raise the company's profile in Japan at a time when it is expanding its operations into the Japanese market. Petrobras has announced that it will be retailing gasoline blended with ethanol in Japan from the start of next year, using the Nishihara refinery which it acquired from ExxonMobil in April. The deal with Honda is thus more to do with Japan than Brazil.
Honda is expected to test a number of young drivers in the next few months before making a decision.