Bernie Ecclestone has revealed that he pledged to help out financially with the Honda F1 management buy-out, but that Nick Fry and Ross Brawn turned down his offer because 'they wanted to do things on their own'.

Time is fast running out for the 750-strong, Brackley-based operation, which was put on the market by the parent company in Japan last December as a result of the global credit crunch and poor on-track return for its reputed ?147 million investment, and has still to confirm a new buyer.

It was understood that the Fry/Brawn management buy-out was all-but a done deal until last week, when Richard Branson's Virgin Group re-entered the fray at the last minute [see separate story - click here], once more plunging the bidding process into chaos and uncertainty.

There is believed to be a deadline of the end of this month for a deal to be finalised with either one or other of the parties for the 2009 Formula 1 season - as well as for an engine supply agreement to be concluded with Mercedes-Benz - or else see the team close its doors for good. Ecclestone said he had endeavoured to step in and help with the process by way of a ?100 million cash injection, only to have been rebuffed.

"I tried to help with the management buy-out," the sport's commercial rights-holder told Sunday newspaper the News of the World. "They should have taken what I offered.

"It was a very good offer for everybody concerned - it gave them complete protection, but they wanted to do things on their own. Now all we can do is hope and pray!

"I don't think anybody knows what is going to happen with Honda. It is up to them to make up their bloody minds, but the team can go one of three ways. They either go with the management buy-out, sell to Richard Branson or they could simply just close down the whole thing.

"The silly thing is we have got Bruno [Senna] wanting to drive. It would be fantastic for everybody to have the name Senna back in F1."

Ecclestone has forked out to help other cash-strapped outfits in the past, including Williams, Jordan and Minardi, and his offer to Honda would have guaranteed the team could have seen out the 2009 season, with Fry and Brawn each owning a 17.5 per cent share.

His financial involvement, though, would also have given the 78-year-old a say in the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA), which is currently embroiled in a dispute with his Formula One Management company regarding the way in which television income is distributed within the top flight.

Honda are unwilling to sell unless they are convinced the new owners will be capable of safeguarding the squad's future, with spokesman Hiroyuki Murase stressing: "We are talking with several potential buyers - but if negotiations fail the team may have to be disbanded."

Ecclestone, however, has suggested that it would not necessarily be a disaster if Honda were to disappear from the grid - a situation that would leave the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne at the end of next month with a field of just 18 cars, the lowest number that has been seen for some time.

"If we lost a McLaren or Ferrari or somebody like BMW, people would wonder what's going on," he contended, "but I don't think that will be the case with Honda. They didn't do too much last year, did they?"

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