FEBRUARY 27, 2009

Honda management buyout to go ahead

Multiple sources are confirming our reports that the management buyout of Honda Racing F1 has now been agreed and that Ross Brawn and Nick Fry will run the team, using Honda money - plus the money that comes from TV income, plus whatever sponsorship can be found. The driver line-up will be led by Jenson Button but it is still not clear whether the second seat will go to Bruno Senna or to Rubens Barrichello. If Senna brings financial support, as has long been rumoured, he would be in a more powerful position, if not Barrichello is a better bet as his experience will be useful in a year when there is little opportunity for young drivers to learn how to drive F1 cars.

It remains to be seen how many of the 700 staff members at Brackley will lose their jobs but with a vendor-funded management buyout the chances are that the difficult decisions will not have to be taken immediately. The primary goal will be to perform as well as possible. The team is building cars designed to race with Mercedes-Benz engines and the aim is to perform sufficiently well to attract money for the longer term, while at the same time, the team will support the cost-cutting programmes that are being instigated in F1.

It is highly likely that Honda will retain some of option to either buy the shares back from the new owners, or to remain a silent partner. The automotive industry is in some difficulty at the moment but that will not last forever and Honda may then wish to return to F1 in order to benefit from new technologies, tell the world about its initiatives and, perhaps most importantly of all, train its engineers in the F1 thought-processes that have done so much for Honda in the past. The company is most unlikely to simply throw away all of its investment to date simply because of a downturn in sales.

The name of the team remains unknown at the moment but we would expect it to be relatively neutral.

The team appears to have gone away with the design of the car with a Mercedes-Benz and so the first cars will be able to appear relatively quickly once the deal is confirmed. The first tests will be in England and then there will probably be time for one test in Spain before the team heads off to Australia.

The biggest challenge will be for the team to find the money to go ahead in 2010 when Honda will probably stop paying. Although there is a new management in Japan it will be hard to justift continued spending, particularly if the team does well using Mercedes-Benz engines.

As always in F1 the key to success will be performance and the disruptions of the winter months will no doubt have an effect although the car should be better than in previosu seasons because Brawn will have had time to filter ideas down through the company and because the Honda engine was believed to be rather underpowered in relation to some of the opposition in 2008. With a better engine and a better chassis the team should have made progress but then again so will most of the other teams so it is going to be hard to know exactly where Honda is in the pecking order until after a couple of races.

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