Amongst the many mixed reports swirling around the Formula 1 paddock regarding the likelihood of Honda appearing on the starting grid for the 2009 curtain-raising grand prix in Melbourne next month, it has been suggested that the necessary funding has been found - but not necessarily for the full season. revealed last week that a deal is now believed to be in place safeguarding the future of the embattled Brackley-based outfit [see separate story - click here], with an official announcement expected imminently and understood to include an engine supply deal with Mercedes-Benz and a driving line-up of long-time Honda incumbent Jenson Button and F1 rookie Bruno Senna.

Should such speculation prove to be true, it would mark the return of the legendary Senna name to the top flight for the first time in 15 years, since the young Brazilian's late, great, three-time world champion uncle Ayrton was tragically killed in the early laps of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.

Honda in Japan put its Northants F1 factory up for sale back at the beginning of December as a result of falling car sales precipitated by the current global credit crunch, and poor on-track return for its significant investment in the project in recent years.

That left more than 700 staff fearing for their jobs, but a mooted management buy-out by team principal Ross Brawn and chief executive officer Nick Fry - aided by the sport's hugely influential commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone - is understood to have saved the team from extinction.

"I am confident that Honda will be in the first race of the year," 78-year-old Ecclestone is quoted as having said by Brazilian website Xinhua. "We are optimistic about the future of the team. However, I cannot confirm anything at this time.

"We've been talking to them. Whatever happens we'd like to see the team stay in business, although I don't even know whether we could legally be involved - we probably couldn't."

Whilst sponsorship deals are said to have been struck with major Brazilian companies Petrobras and Embratel - both keen to see the Senna name back in F1 - British newspaper The Guardian has speculated that backing has only been found to ensure Honda's attendance at the opening four grands prix of the upcoming season, in Australia, Malaysia, China and Bahrain, a sum in the region of EUR22 million.

Moreover, the Daily Telegraph claims that 'not only are the reports regarding Senna believed to be untrue, but Petrobras have pulled out of a sponsorship deal with Honda for 2009', leaving the squad's future still 'hanging in the balance'.

A team source stated that an unnamed new bid late on in the process has threatened to de-rail the Brawn/Fry rescue deal, describing the interested party as 'reputable, able to bring long-term financial stability, with a brand image known throughout the world. Formula 1 would do well to have them on-board.'

"The Honda Motor Co. board have to ask themselves what is best for the shareholders first and then what is best for the 750-strong staff," the source added. "If they allow a management takeover to go ahead which then fails this could be deemed negligent, a grave concern for all shareholders.

"Furthermore, will the shareholders be happy to continue funding the F1 team even after Honda have pulled out? A failed management buy-out will also see 750 jobs lost. Will Honda be on the grid in Melbourne? I would say it's 50-50."

Closing the team down altogether would cost in the region of ?100 million, with ?24 million required to pay off Button's new three-year contract alone.



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