Bernie Ecclestone has suggested that Honda's insistence on setting unrealistic targets for its Formula 1 team was the root cause of the car maker's shock withdrawal from the top flight, with a former senior team member adding that the 2007 Earth Car 'must have cost them £200 million'.
The Brackley-based outfit – which burned its way through £147 million in 2008, for the meagre return of just 14 world championship points and the lowest position of any manufacturer-backed squad in the constructors' standings – has been put on the market for just $1, and is already rumoured to have elicited interest from Prodrive chairman David Richards, Carlin Motorsport owner Trevor Carlin and Arab consortium Dubai Investment Capital, which failed in its Magma Group-led bid to gain control of the defunct Super Aguri F1 concern earlier this year.
“I'd say the chances of us being on the grid in 2009 are 50-50,” chief executive Nick Fry is quoted as having said by the News of the World
, “but we are sitting here with a lot of desirable assets and with a car we are confident will be competitive next season.”
The only sticking point is that any potential purchaser would need to convince Honda that they have the necessary funding and wherewithal to keep the team afloat in 2009, before the sport's costs are drastically reduced to as little as £30-40million in 2010. That, and the assurance that the company's F1 assets, such as the Brackley factory and £50 million wind tunnel, will not simply be sold off.
“Just to make the team possible to exist, a nominal price is acceptable,” the Japanese marque's president Takeo Fukui revealed. “All around the world, November car sales went down massively – beyond our imagination. This decision did not exist in September.”
The lack of sponsorship generated in 2007 and 2008, however – which led to Honda being forced to embrace the environmentally-aware, 'Earth Dreams' motif – is understood to have cost the manufacturer as much as £200 million in lost revenue.
“The money was not coming in because there were no logos on the car and Honda was footing the bill,” a former senior boss related, “despite what they said about it being a new sponsorship initiative.
“They should have been putting that money away for a rainy day, just as BMW and Mercedes were doing.”
Honda's withdrawal has also both puzzled and angered F1's commercial rights-holder Ecclestone, who knows that should just one more team follow suit between now and the 2009 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne at the end of March, he will no longer even have a sport to speak of.
“If you look at them I wonder if they had been third in the championship this year and fourth the year before whether they would have reached the same decision?” questioned the 78-year-old.