Having initially been listed among those interested in snapping up the remains of the original Honda F1 team - if only to asset strip its technical facilities for his own Force India outfit - Vijay Mallya has been revealed as having had a hand in helping the new owners get on the grid.
While there has been no official confirmation that any rescue plan has been put in place, a consortium involving former team management figures Ross Brawn and Nick Fry are expected to be revealed as the saviours of the Honda programme, with a 2009-spec car, complete with Mercedes engine, due to run at Silverstone in the next 48 hours. However, it has emerged that Mallya will have played his part by allowing the team to also use the German powerplant.
With FIA rules preventing any one manufacturer from supplying more than two teams, the soon-to-be-renamed Honda team has had to apply for special dispensation to team up with Mercedes - and that means asking Mallya whether he minded sharing his customer status with a rival. Mercedes already supplies Force India, having replaced Ferrari as the team's engine of choice thanks to an addition supply of drivetrain and KERS technology, as well as technical partner McLaren.
Ironically, the erstwhile Honda team had also been linked to a potential Ferrari engine supply following FIF1's switch, and could have joined Scuderia Toro Rosso as a customer of the Italian giant, but Mallya's claim adds credence to the belief that Brawn and co, if confirmed, will be on the grid at the Australian GP later this month.
"Under the FIA regulations, an engine supplier can supply two teams," Mallya told Reuters
, "So, logically, that would have been Mercedes supplying McLaren and Force India. [However], the FIA, I believe, have given special dispensation to Mercedes to supply an engine only to the former Honda team for one year.
"I'm quite happy to just accept that in the interests of the sport because we've had one team disappear from the grid, Super Aguri in 2008, and I'd hate to see another team disappear in 2009. If Honda, in whatever new shape or form, can remain on the grid in 2009 then it's good for the sport of Formula One."
Honda Motor Co has also given the clearest indication that a deal to save the team might be close to confirmation, telling the Yomimuri
newspaper that 'we expect to be able to make an announcement from the company and the team in the near future'.
"Honda has been making all possible efforts to avoid the worst option of having to disband the team," the source said, adding that long-time BAR and Honda driver Jenson Button and 2008 team principal Brawn would indeed remain on board.
Mallya, meanwhile, underlined his magnanimity by admitting that, even as a billionaire, he had not been left untouched by the increasingly global financial situation, and that he welcomed the cost-cutting measures proposed by the FIA and teams' group FOTA as a means of keeping teams on the grid.
"There is no point in anybody denying the fact that there has been a great economic meltdown and Formula One is bound to be affected," he noted, "That's why I completely support and welcome these major cost reduction initiatives that are now being taken.
"We had several commitments for sponsorship for 2009, some of which will not come through because of the recession. But others seem to be on track, people have confirmed to me that they still want to go ahead. Indian companies are coming forward slowly - there isn't a line outside my door, but they are coming on board. I have had commitments from a much larger number than I believe will actually show up on the car finally but, in these economic circumstances, that is only to be expected.
"We have to make sure that we are tight and manage our cash well."