DECEMBER 7, 2008

Voices of calm

After a fairly frenetic Friday, Formula 1 settled down to dealing with realities on Saturday and Mercedes, BMW, Renault and Toyota all stepped forward and said that they are staying in Formula 1 and that Honda's withdrawal is not the end of civilisation as we know it - as was being forecast by some. Ferrari also added its comments of the Honda affair. Mercedes-Benz's Nobert Haug said that Honda's decision to pull out is "very sad" but shows "how important the cost-cutting measures are that we've been advocating for more than five years, and which have only been realised to a small degree." He said that the Stuttgart company's involvement in F1 is "built on financially solid foundations and is in large part financed by our sponsoring partners. Mercedes-Benz's contribution is cost-efficient, the resonance in the media and in the public which last season and Lewis Hamilton's win generated was worth many times our financial investment. Within the Formula One Teams Association, we're working very hard on measures to cut costs, and over the next two years we must achieve cuts of at least 50%".

BMW issued a statement quoting board member Klaus Draeger, who says that there is no better platform than F1 for demonstrating BMW's brand values.

"It is with regret that we learnt of Honda's decision," he said. "It has no bearing on BMW's involvement in Formula 1. BMW makes targeted use of the Formula 1 project as a technology accelerator for series production. With the BMW Sauber F1 Team, we have from the start focused on high efficiency and have achieved our successes with a compact and powerful team. The cost-benefit ratio is commensurately positive. The measures now proposed by FOTA for significant cost cuts starting as early as season 2009 are a further important contribution."

Toyota said that Honda's decision is "a pity for us as a Japanese team. However, we cannot comment more about their situation because this is an issue for Honda. Toyota is currently committed to succeeding in Formula 1, and to reducing our costs. We are contributing to the FOTA activities which will achieve significant cost reductions, whilst maintaining the spirit of the sport. We hope FOTA's proposals and activities will be given the widespread support they deserve as they provide the sound, stable base Formula 1 requires at this time."

Ferrari and FOTA boss Luca di Montezemolo said that he was "really sorry" to hear about Honda.

"Unfortunately these things can happen in difficult times like these. Over the years we've seen coming and going several constructors in Formula 1," he said.

Montezemolo said that he was very satisfied with the FOTA meeting that took place in London

"We unanimously took some very important decisions with short-term and mid-term impact, for the years 2009 and 2010, while we also set out a proposal for a new engine starting in 2011," he said. "We gave a further input as far as cost reduction is concerned to help especially the smaller teams over the upcoming season. It's a huge effort from all of us, which is important for two reasons: firstly because it wasn't planned, considering what has been planned a few weeks ago, and secondly, because it happens in a very delicate overall economical situation.

"I think that we've given an unanimous reply to the requests FIA has made several times; therefore we've shown that we have a great capacity to react and to suggest solutions, backed by all of us protagonists in Formula 1, from the big car manufacturers to the independent teams. The aim is to reach unanimous decisions, which satisfy all our requests, while we don't touch Formula 1 as a sporty and technological competition amongst teams."

"In the short run we'll organize a meeting with Max Mosley to present him the details of our proposals and to discuss with him how to improve the show our sport offers. Furthermore we also agreed that it's necessary to meet with Bernie Ecclestone to talk about the distribution as far as the earnings are concerned."

In the meantime the Honda F1 management are beginning to listen to poetntial buyers, of which there appear to be several. There have been many rumours and it is clear from remarks made by Nick Fry and Ross Brawn that the primary goal would be to find a manufacturer willing to take over the Honda role. If that fails then there are a scale of other possible survival plans of different sorts.

One rumour that has been floated is that Citroen might be a potential buyer of the Honda F1 operation. This seems rather unlikely in the first instance but the PSA Peugeot-Citroen company is ambitious and has been involved in F1 before. More importantly, it has acheived all it can achieve in the World Rally Championship (with five consecutive World Championships with Sebastien Loeb), and has a high profile desire to be seen to be working towards better environmental policies. The downside is that the company recently announced plans to lay-off around 3000 workers, although this has since been achieved with voluntary redundancy and the French government has stepped in to help out with a $33bn stimulus package to keep France's industry, notably the automobile manufacturers, out of trouble. This is not direct financial assistance but rather incentive schemes to get car sales moving and get production moving again. There is also a sizeable fund for the development of energy-efficient solutions and the alternative energy sources in the automobile industry. PSA Peugeot Citroen has made much of its developments, notably with the diesel-engined Le Mans 24 Hours sportscars. The company also has ambitious goals for international expansion in South America, China and Eastern Europe. The company has a relatively new top management, dating back to February 2007 when Christian Streiff succeeded Jean-Martin Folz as chairman. He has been the force behind the international expansion plans and is a strong supporter of the environmental programmes.