OCTOBER 26, 2004

A Repsol Honda team in 2007?

There are rumours in F1 circles that BAR is bidding for a major sponsorship deal with the Spanish oil company Repsol. The apparent intention is for the team to run Fernando Alonso as one of the drivers after his current contract with Renault runs out.

This makes a great deal of sense and may tie in with other rumours which are currently circulating which are suggesting that British American Tobacco, the parent company of the team, is moving towards selling the team to Honda. Until recently Honda has consistently said it does not want to be a team owner, but attitudes are changing and being a team owner would give Honda more control over decision-making and would also give it more political clout in F1 circles. Honda would also be looking to protect its investment because once tobacco advertising is banned in F1, there is no point in BAT being involved (and shareholders will no doubt be pointing that out to the BAT board).

Repsol is the perfect partner for Honda in F1 because the two companies have enjoyed a massive amount of success and built a strong brand together in motorcycle racing. The Repsol Honda team dates back to 1995 and originally ran Mick Doohan, Alex Criville and Shinichi Itoh. Doohan won World Championships in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998 and then Criville won a fifth consecutive title in 1999. The team did not enjoy much success in 2000 and 2001 but signing up Valentino Rossi for 2002 led to more success with Rossi winning titles in 2002 and 2003.

This year Repsol Honda is running Alex Barros and Nicky Hayden.

Prior to the deal with Honda, Repsol was closely linked with Spanish rally star Carlos Sainz and backed the Ford rallying programme. It also entered F1 in 1998 funding Pedro de la Rosa as the Jordan test driver. In 1999 the firm switched with de la Rosa to Arrows. The aim of the program was to increase global awareness of Repsol's activities. After de la Rosa was dropped unexpectedly at the start of 2001 Repsol withdrew from F1.