Bids by both Prodrive and Force India F1 managing director Vijay Mallya to purchase the defunct Honda Formula 1 team have been beaten off by that of a Mexican billionaire described as 'the second-richest man in the world', it has been claimed.

Whilst David Richards' independent Prodrive concern had been seen as most likely to seal the deal - the former Benetton and BAR-Honda team principal recently flying out to the Middle East to hold serious talks with investors - and Kingfisher Airlines tycoon Mallya had emerged as a late candidate, it is rumoured that both have been pipped to the post by Carlos Slim Helu, who owns Mexican telecommunications giant Telmex.

'The saviour has arrived,' reports respected Italian newspaper La Stampa. 'Carlos Slim, 68-years-old, the second-richest man in the world.

'The news is not official as all the details have yet to be formalised, but two things are certain - the team has been saved and the drivers will be Jenson Button and rookie Bruno Senna in place of Rubens Barrichello.'

Button and Senna had been Honda's favoured choices prior to the big-budget Japanese company suddenly and unexpectedly pulling the plug on its F1 project earlier this month, in response to the current credit crunch sweeping the globe, falling international car sales and a paltry return of just 14 points and ninth position in the 2008 constructors' world standings for a record-breaking investment of nigh-on ?150 million. Senna is sponsored by Brazilian firm Embratel, the largest off-shoot of the Telmex group.

'Slim gave the game away when he visited the embattled team's UK headquarters last week,' revealed automotive industry website Motor Authority. 'His helicopter, displaying his official crest, was too big to be landed on the helipad, so the team had to clear the car park.'

Slim's interest in F1 arises from his desire to expand his business in Latin America, and he has in the past drawn upon his reputed $60 billion fortune to support Mexican drivers. Moreover, he is a member of the board of Philip Morris International, which owns Ferrari sponsor Marlboro.

'Slim has made a name as a man who buys cheap companies, builds them up and sells them,' explained, 'but there has to be a decent business model for him to be interested. Honda F1 might fit the bill, but he knows that it will require hefty investment in the next few years before it begins to create value. However, if this can be used to improve his sales in Brazil, there is logic in the move.'

The website also notes that Adrian Campos - who has made no secret of his desire to run the first serious Spanish outfit in the top flight - recently took over the leadership of Mexico's A1GP squad, with paddock whispers suggesting that as part of the deal he will also spearhead a scheme to discover and promote young Mexican drivers, with Slim's financial backing.

Other interested parties in Honda are said to include a Swiss hedge fund and Greek shipping tycoon Achilleas Kallakis, and the Brackley-based concern's chief executive Nick Fry is quoted by F1SA as having contended that 'we have had a high level of interest in the team since Honda announced their withdrawal from Formula 1'.

"Work on the build of our 2009 car continues," the Englishman added, "to ensure our objective of being on the grid at Melbourne in March will be achieved."

Motorsport in Japan has been hit particularly hard of late not only by Honda's shock announcement, but also by both Subaru and Suzuki pulling out of the World Rally Championship.


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