It now seems inevitable that Honda will announce in a few hours’ time that it is going to sell its F1 team or close it.
F1 could be left with only nine teams, drivers will be left without seats, and the continued participation of other manufacturers may be in doubt. How will Honda’s departure affect Formula 1?
Formula One Management is understood to be required to bring at least 20 cars to each Grand Prix (there is some doubt over the exact figure – some suggest it could be as little as 16). If no buyer for the Brackley team is found, F1 will have only nine teams with 18 cars.
Therefore it may be necessary for some teams to field three cars. This potentially creates all kinds of complications:
How would it be decided which teams run three cars? Would all three be eligible for championship points?
Are the FIA and FOM able to demand teams run three cars if they have to? The commercial deal that governs F1, the Concorde Agreement, lapsed some time ago.
Are Toyota next?
Will other car manufacturers follow Honda in ending their F1 teams? Honda are by no means the only car manufacturer taking a hammering on sales and profits at the moment.
Once one team has been pulled we could see a domino effect where other car manufacturers look at what Honda has done and reason: ‘if they can cut their F1 programme, so can we’.
Given Honda’s decision to pull out, Toyota’s continues participation suddenly looks decidedly vulnerable. Toyota originally entered F1 in 2002 to go up against its major domestic rival which, at the time, was an engine supplier.
Toyota has reported a similar huge fall in its American market sales within days of Honda doing so: Honda’s sales fell by 32%, Toyota’s by 34%. Toyota has slashed its profit forecast for the current fiscal year from ?é?Ñ1.25tr to ?é?Ñ550bn ($13.4bn to $5.9bn).
Its $445.6m F1 budget may seem small by comparison but as the company drastically cuts back on car production and faces a huge fall in profits, sustaining an F1 team at great cost for little reward seems indefensible. There is already speculation that Toyota is not interested in competing in F1 without its chief rival and is preparing to pull out.
Meanwhile Renault has shed 6,000 workers and made deep production cuts. Could it be next in line?
What about their drivers?
Honda were expected to continue with Jenson Button for 2009 and pair him with either Rubens Barrichello, Lucas di Grassi or Bruno Senna. Barrichello, F1’s oldest and most experienced driver, may find it hard to get a seat with another team.
Jenson Button has been with the team since 2003, scored their first win (for the modern incarnation of Honda), and has stuck with them through their 2007-2008 slump. If he is able to get any seat for 2009 his options seem limited to Toro Rosso or possibly Force India.
And its IRL programme?
It’s not clear whether Honda intends to continue its exclusive engine supply deal with the American-based Indy Racing League.
If Honda indeed decides to keep its IRL programme and drop its F1 team Bernie Ecclestone should take note – he allowed both of F1’s North American races to be priced off the calendar, despite objections from many fans and team owners, including Nick Fry.
What about the future cost-cutting plans?
The prospect of losing one of the manufacturer-backed F1 teams will surely harden the resolve of FIA president Max Mosley to increase the size and scope of his cost-cutting proposals, including the demand for standard engines.
The Formula One Teams Association met today to discuss future cost-cutting plans and claim they have “agreed to further measures implementing substantial cost cutting for 2009 and 2010”. Details of how this will be achieved are not known yet.
They also called for a move to a new specification of engine from 2011 – a 1.8-litre turbocharged unit using energy recovery systems, which it claims will use 30% less fuel. Will that be enough of a fuel saving to offset the development cost of these new engines?
And will it be a strong enough proposal to delay Max Mosley’s effort to impose standard engines on F1?
Could it affect the Japanese Grand Prix?
Ollie on BlogF1 points out that as Honda operates Suzuka Circuit its role as a Grand Prix host could be in doubt. Suzuka is set to return to F1 as the host of the 2009 Japanese Grand Prix.
As well as the loss of the race’s owner from F1, it could lead to a significant downturn in local interest.
Will someone step in and buy the team?
There is a lot of speculation about whether a buyer for Honda might be found. It is not clear whether Honda would allow a new owner to continue using its engines (James Allen thinks not, Autosport suggests it might).
Inevitably speculation will fall on companies who most tried to enter F1 most recently, such as Dubai’s Magma Group and Germany’s Weigl Group, who looked into purchasing Super Aguri in April, or David Richard’s Prodrive company, which was originally going to enter a team this year.
Autosport suggests that Brawn could bring a Ferrari engine supply to the team. Ferrari is no longer supplying Force India and so in theory may have engines available.
But the chances of finding a buyer able and willing to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into running an F1 team – however cheaply Honda sell the team – seems extremely unlikely in the current economic climate.
That said, if Ecclestone really does have a vested interest in finding a buyer due to the ’20 cars’ clause, then he is the man to get it done.
I hope it happens. Not just for the future of F1, but for the hundreds of workers at Brackley.