Another name has been added to the list of prospective saviours for the beleaguered Honda F1 team, with Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim apparently joining the race to snap up the cut-price Brackley operation.
Despite Prodrive boss David Richards appearing to edge into the lead as he discusses funding options with his UAE partners, and Force India owner Vijay Mallya apparently hovering over the corpse of his back of the grid rival, Slim is being touted as possibly the best option for Honda's workforce.
One of the world's richest men, Slim has been thrown into the mix by Motor Authority
, which claims that the telecoms billionaire is looking to expand his motorsport involvement by stepping into the top flight. Honda has put its F1 operation on sale for a nominal fee of $1, provided that any potential buyer guarantees the future of its team and the people that work in it.
A report published today on automotive industry website Motor Authority said Carlos Slim, Force India's Mallya and UK-based motorsport and auto engineering group Prodrive's David Richards have emerged potential buyers. Other interested parties include a Swiss hedge fund and Greek shipping tycoon Achilleas Kallakis, it added.
Reports claim that Slim, whose Telmex concern backs current Grand-Am champions Chip Ganassi Racing and a host of aspiring Mexican stars including British F3 racewinner Sergio Perez, visited Honda's Brackley base last week. The 68-year old is reputedly the world's second richest man and his interest in Honda may have been piqued by the team's recent trial of Bruno Senna, who is backed by Telmex subsidiary Embratel. The Brazilian was top of the list to replace countryman Rubens Barrichello in the line-up should Honda have continued to run in F1, but appeared to have missed his chance when the Japanese marque pulled the plug on its operations unexpectedly.
While team CEO Nick Fry reports 'a high level of interest' in the team since it was put up for sale, those working at Brackley are reportedly worried about the credentials of several of those linked to a buy-out. Slim, Richards and Mallya are included on the list of interested parties, along with an unnamed Swiss hedge fund and Greek shipping tycoon Achilleas Kallakis, but the two men with previous F1 experience are not
the ones Honda employees want to see taking over.
“A lot of people at the factory are worried about Richards or Mallya taking over," a Honda source claimed, “People think Mallya will just cherry-pick the best bits for Force India, and how can Richards say he wants to take over the team when he is asking the [British] government for money for his Aston Martin company.”
Former Benetton and BAR boss Richards flew to the UAE to discuss his options for buying the Honda operation at the weekend, and remains many people's favourite to rescue the team if he can find the reported £150m he reckons will be needed to run it in 2009 alone.
Any buyer is likely to acquire a ready-to-run 2009 machine, complying to the latest technical rules and potentially powered by Honda engines - albeit not necessarily carrying the company logo - as well as the services of respected designer and tactician Ross Brawn, who took over as Honda team boss in 2008. The services of driver Jenson Button are not guaranteed, however, with the Briton being linked to a possible switch to Toro Rosso.