Despite rumours that Toyota and Ferrari are the teams most likely throw money at Formula One in pursuit of success, it has emerged that Honda actually topped the league last season.
A report in Britain's Financial Times
newspaper revealed that, despite 'buying' only eighth place in the F1 constructors' championship and struggling to achieve meaningful results on track, the Brackley-based operation 'burned through £147m' - a record amount even by Formula One's inflated standards and in spite of attempts to curb spending in the top flight.
According to the report, 'turnover at the team rose 23 per cent to £149.3m, but just £7m of this is believed to have come from sponsorship. The team's biggest cost is the development and production of about 80 V8 engines, but a close second is the £35.3m spent on employees. During 2007, Honda boosted its numbers by adding 102 design, manufacturing and engineering staff to give it a total of 667 – more than any of the other six UK-based F1 teams. In contrast, this year's F1 world constructors champion, McLaren, has 570 staff and costs of £125.7m'.
The low level of sponsorship income has been attributed to Honda's decision to promote its green 'Earth Dreams' initiative with a car devoid of corporate logos, which were replaced with a graphic representation on the globe. Although sponsors were able to feature on the car, they were to be reduced to a mere pinpoint on the map. This year's car - which continued to run at the back of the field - reverted to a more traditional white paint job, but still contained few backers outside of the Honda corporation, which provided nearly all the team's funding.
report claims that Honda will continue to fund the team through 2009, when it is hoped that ex-Ferrari man Ross Brawn's arrival will have a marked effect on performance, and that the next set of financial results will show that costs have risen still higher, with the introduction of KERS technology and revised aerodynamics expected to be major factors.
With the FIA continuing to push for a curb on spending - particularly with the future of the few remaining independent teams hanging in the balance - the next two or three years could see a reversal in Honda's figures. Opposed to having such proposals as a single-spec engine foisted upon them, the ten teams are working on cost-cutting ideas of their own, but it remains to be seen how many, and how soon, these will be adopted.
Ironically, however, the global 'credit crisis' may not
have the effect on sponsorship that many are predicting, with major companies realising that involvement in sports is as good a place to promote themselves as anywhere.
Despite all reporting losses of varying degrees in recent weeks, ING, Credit Suisse, Allianz and Santander have all hinted that there are no plans to cut back on their involvement in Formula One, claiming that the sport offers unprecedented levels of exposure and image enhancement that other promotional means do not.
According to industry sources, ING - which recently received a $12bn bail-out from the Dutch government - spends between $90-$120m a year to back the Renault team, advertising at 14 grands prix and boast title sponsorships of the races in Belgium and Australia.
In return, it has seen its brand recognition and image climb by more than 700 per cent since its relationship with Renault began ahead of the 2007 season, benefiting additionally from the team's Roadshow initiative, which takes the now familiar orange ING colours on display in countries that do not yet feature on the F1 calendar.
For Honda, meanwhile, reports that Bruno Senna could come on board next season are being backed up by alleged deals between the team and Brazilian oil giant Petrobras and telecoms company Embratel.