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The 12th team

THERE has been much talk in recent days about the future of the team which was to have been called Honda Racing Developments. This had secured the twelfth and final F1 entry but with Honda deciding to join forces with BAR, either a new 12th entrant will be found or the whole HRD operation will be taken over by a new owner.

The 95 employees of HRD in Bracknell have already been told by Honda that they are no longer required and are currently serving their notice. There is, however, an English law which requires a period of legal consultation which means that no-one can leave the company until all the settlements have been sorted out. This lasts for a month. If in that time a buyer can be found the team would be able to go on operating with a different identity.

Current speculation suggests that, as part of its settlement deal with Bernie Ecclestone, Honda will hand over HRD. He will then either sell it to someone or put in his own management team and run the operation until a suitable buyer can be found. The sudden reappearance in the F1 paddock of former F1 team owner John Macdonald - who used to run the RAM March team and is a longtime friend and ally of Ecclestone - has led to suggestions that he might be a suitable caretaker. He has recently sold his engineering business and is looking for something else to do. Engines for such a deal would logically come from Supertec, in which Ecclestone has a shareholding. Another possibility is that Supertec's Flavio Briatore will take over the team himself.

Another man who has popped up recently a lot in the F1 paddock is former F1 driver and RAM marketing man Guy Edwards. He now works as an independent sponsorship hunter and has been spending a lot of time with the Stewart team - rumors suggesting that if Stewart does switch to Jaguar-badged Ford engines next year then sponsorship might come from Silk Cut. Silk Cut Jaguar is already an established motor racing brand thanks to the success of the sportscar programs in the late 1980s and early 1990s - a deal which was put together by Edwards. If the deal does not work with Stewart there is always a possibility that Ford might be convinced to establish a Jaguar Sport operation using the HRD facility and staff.

Other names which are being mentioned as possible buyers for HRD are Toyota, Zakspeed, a revived Lotus and the Japanese racing car company Dome. Spanish newspapers also reported that Paul Stroddart, the boss of the European Edenbridge Formula 3000 team is interested, although the Australian airline magnate is currently saying he has no such plans but would eventually like to break into F1.

Toyota is not thought to be a very likely buyer as it is in the interest of Ecclestone to keep the price of the teams as high as possible by not taking the obvious buyer. In addition Toyota is not planning to enter F1 until 2002 after spending 2001 testing. Toyota is understood to have been approached by several teams, offering money for its F1 engines but the company policy at the moment is to continue with its own in-house program based in Cologne, Germany. Unlike Honda, Toyota is not short of cash, the company's public relations people pointing out that Toyota earns more money from the interest on its money than it does from selling cars. That would suggest that Toyota will come with its own chassis and engine as planned. We understand that both Sauber and Benetton have already pitched Toyota, offering to pay for the engines but have been rejected. A deal could, of course, be struck between Toyota and a team so that the company secures an entry to F1, without an engine supply although it might be wiser for a conservative company such as Toyota to do what Honda is apparently planning and have two engine supplies, badged differently.

This would please Bernie Ecclestone who is looking for more engines for the future as the Supertec V10s will soon be antique and there is currently no money available from Renault Sport to design new generation V10s.

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