Ross Brawn has revealed that the defunct Honda Formula 1 operation has begun negotiations for a Ferrari engine supply in 2009 - even though it has still to find a buyer and is unlikely to test between now and the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in March.

Having dismissed suggestions that Telmex billionaire Carlos Slim is planning to buy the Brackley-based outfit [see separate story - click here], and with the rumour mill around David Richards' independent Prodrive concern seemingly having run cold, the outward signs do not look good for Honda as the new season approaches apace, but team principal Brawn insists he is 'really optimistic' about the squad's prospects of survival.

The 54-year-old claims that 'there has been a huge amount of interest' from a number of buyers, and that now it is a question of 'filtering out the serious from the not-so-serious'. Moreover, he confirmed that talks had been opened up with his former employers Ferrari with a view to running customer powerplants from Maranello this year.

"Honda has already said it will not supply us with engines, so that's why I contacted Ferrari," the man who filled the role of technical director at the Scuderia during the 'Schumacher Era' from 1996 to 2006 told Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"We haven't signed anything yet, but I really appreciated the support from President Luca di Montezemolo and Stefano Domenicali. It's like being among former schoolmates - they still see me as one of their own."

Brawn added that rather than safeguarding his own future, he is most focussed upon assuring job security for Honda F1's 750 employees, all of whom have faced a distinctly uncertain winter since the big-budget Japanese manufacturer announced it was withdrawing from the sport just over a month ago.

"I can only say it's more than one," he responded when asked how many potential investors the team is in discussion with. "The objective is to save the presence is certainly not a priority.

"There's no hurry, because modifying the car to install a different engine requires at least six weeks of work anyway. It's unlikely we'll manage to be on-track during the winter; that's why we are studying a package of evolutions for 2010, when we aim to step up the ladder. This year will remain for us a transitional one."

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for record-breaking multiple F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher has sought to quash wild speculation that the retired German legend may be one of the parties interested in helping to rescue Honda.

Schumacher achieved all seven of his title successes with Brawn's help, firstly at Benetton and then Ferrari, but Sabine Kehm was quick to rubbish suggestions that the recently-turned 40-year-old may now be keen to re-establish that partnership in a different context.

"Ross and Michael are still friends, that's true," she told, "but Michael's involvement with Honda is limited to the IDM (German Superbike series)."