Posted on December 6, 2008
The human side of the Honda story | James Allen on F1 – The official James Allen website on F1

Today’s papers are full of the story of Honda’s withdrawal from F1 and the efforts to sell the team and save some of the 670 jobs at Brackley. It’s just a number, like the figure Woolworths and Citibank are shedding. But, as Jenson Button highlighted in his statement yesterday, there are real people behind these numbers, people he feels very close to.

Although this is potentially a disaster for Button’s career, he has a huge amount of money in the bank and will be alright. The same is true of Ross Brawn. But the rest of the team are not so lucky. Even if the sale is successful the team will be streamlined and probably only about a third of them will keep their posts. The rest will be out looking for highly specialised work in a hostile economic climate.

This is a team which has been put together over the last nine years, based on the BAR team. The front men you know; Ross Brawn needs no introduction and has only been with the team 12 months. Nick Fry has been with the team since the David Richards days and is one of the most affable people in the pit lane. But he’s also teflon coated and very determined. He has got his way many times over the years in the highly political atmosphere of Honda, against the odds. You can blame him for Honda not hitting the heights in F1, because ultimately he is in charge of putting the right people in the key places, but the technical people have to shoulder the blame for failing to deliver.

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The human side of the Honda story
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  1.   1. Posted By: pinkypants
        Date: December 6th, 2008 @ 9:12 am 

    Wonderful article James, such a shame that we will never have seen the true potential of Honda. My thoughts go out to all those who face redundancy, especially at this time of year.

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  2.   2. Posted By: Lee Grant
        Date: December 6th, 2008 @ 9:20 am 

    Damn right James,

    Obviously the effect will be felt outside the walls of Honda.

    The Honda factory is a huge presence in a little town like Brackley – it will leave a huge gap in their local economy if it closes. Local business leaders are already very concerned according to reports on the BBC website.

    Even if Honda is ‘bought’, there are still going to be a lot of redundancies. A tragedy at any time but particularly difficult at Christmas and at the start of a recession.

    Let’s hope there is some good news soon….

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  3.   3. Posted By: Nicholas Perkins
        Date: December 6th, 2008 @ 11:33 am 

    The human side of this is often forgotten by fans. Thanks for a great read.

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  4.   4. Posted By: Ace Best
        Date: December 6th, 2008 @ 12:13 pm 

    Great writing,James.

    Even if they manage to find a buyer,a lot of the crews are screwed.

    But,I still really really hope someone competent would buy the Honda team.Because like Ross Brawn said,2009 is a big year for them,and there would be no better chance for an investor who’s interested in formula 1 than this 1 chance.Hopefully,we could see this team on the grid next March,and fingers crossed,maybe they could still be a front runner.

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  5.   5. Posted By: Tom
        Date: December 6th, 2008 @ 7:28 pm 

    Apparently Dave Richards is looking at buying the team, Prodrive could make it into F1 after all, and of course he knows the team well. But even then, a lot of employees will have to be laid off, big shame.

    STR should sign Jenson alongside Takuma Sato, echoes of Honda days.

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  6.   6. Posted By: Jason C
        Date: December 6th, 2008 @ 8:12 pm 

    Well, according to Nick Fry, there are a few serious contenders looking at buying the team. We’ve heard Nick looking on the bright side before though, so I’ll take that with a pinch of salt.

    It’s a real tragedy, and I think even more so because the team look to be about to turn a corner: new rules, a long lead-time for their new car, and Ross Brawn’s first car for the team.

    I’m wondering who these potential buyers are: with all this stuff going down in the financial world, it’s going to be a tough job for anyone to borrow the money to buy, so it will probably be a cash buyer. Who’s got cash and would want an F1 team? Tata? VW (but Audi have withdrawn from virtually everything)? What about Davie Richards? He knows the team, of course. I can’t imagine him having the cash available though.

    Any speculation / inside info from you, James?

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  7.   7. Posted By: Ace Best
        Date: December 7th, 2008 @ 3:36 am 

    @Jason C :what company is Tata? I’ve never heard of ‘em.Mind to explain?

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  8.   8. Posted By: Scott
        Date: December 7th, 2008 @ 5:26 am 

    Good insight, James. Out of interest, does anyone who worked for Tyrrell hold a key position at Honda?

    As far as Will Stevens is concerned, I think Honda would be wise to keep him within the motorsport programme. Even with the cost of karting being so high these days, they could finance his career for a fraction of what they’re still going to be spending on Moto GP and the IRL. Sadly though, I can’t see Tokyo taking this view.

    Jason C, it’d be cool to see VW enter Formula One with Edoardo Mortara, but there’s no way I can envisage this happening next year. Porsche now effectively own a controlling interest in VW, and Wolfgang Porsche went to the trouble of telling the press just how little he thinks of Formula One in light of the Mosley scandal.

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  9.   9. Posted By: David
        Date: December 7th, 2008 @ 8:21 am 

    Nick Fry is quoted in the newspapers today as saying that all three parties that have expressed an interest in buying Honda are foreign-based, so it doesn’t seem that Prodrive have indicated any interest. Very difficult for them being able to raise the necessary capital in the current climate I guess.

    Hope that Honda survive, somehow.

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  10.   10. Posted By: Mohammed
        Date: December 7th, 2008 @ 8:51 am 

    Well it sad to see people loose their jobs. I hope some of the talent in Honda will find their way into other teams on the grid if the team doesn’t get bought. Because to be honest with the economy situation all over the world I can’t see somebody spending all that money on an F1 team

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  11.   11. Posted By: Red Five
        Date: December 7th, 2008 @ 4:20 pm 

    Ace Best, TaTa are an Indian manufacturer, they bought Jaguar/Land Rover from Ford recently(ish).

    No one has mentioned Nanjing Automobile Corporation, the Chinese company that owns MG, that would be cool!

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  12.   12. Posted By: Steve
        Date: December 7th, 2008 @ 5:06 pm 

    James, good story. I am sorry for affect that it has on the staff of 675 at Brackley.

    However, I am of the opinion that Formula One is bloated with too much/many people and resources. At the end of the day – I hope that sensibility and staffing matches the amount of money available in the sport.

    Hopefully, this will lead to having races – where F1 racing has traditionally visited over the past 50 years: USA, Canada, France, Germany, and UK. All these countries have lost or will lose their races….

    Regards, Steve

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  13.   13. Posted By: Lady Snowcat
        Date: December 7th, 2008 @ 6:22 pm 

    Interestingly James, you make no comment on Nick Fry …

    He has long been the butt of barbed comments from a large number of F1 fans… much as some commentators have been, I may add…

    I would be intrigued how you rate Mr Fry who has long been seen as the guardian of Honda’s demise on the F1 stage being more of a style over substance type… although the signing of Ross was seen to be inspired you could consider the following on that front….

    I assume the eminent Mr Brawn felt he had sufficient support from the head guys at Honda to completely ignore 2008 to ensure 2009 would be excellent… but in business it is always your last results that are considered …. not next year’s pipe dream….

    Perhaps the extreme forward focus and “catch-up” spending spree made the F1 team team expendable…. especially when there were no guarantees….. we can all recall the Honda F1 management’s optimism each year since BAR’s second place in 2004, accompanying a steady slide down the team table…..

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  14.   14. Posted By: speedmerchants
        Date: December 8th, 2008 @ 9:39 am 

    JA writes: ..Ah, Lady Snowcat, how nice to hear from you again. I may be wrong, but reading between the lines of some of the things you have said in the past, I have a suspicion that you may work for one of the other teams….I’m waiting for you to give more away before I firm up on that view…either way it’s good to have you here.

    As to Nick, he’s a great survivior and you have to give him credit for that. The team under him got it wrong more than they got it right and as the conductor of the orchestra it was his job to make sure that the right people were in the right jobs and playing the same tune. But Honda is a very political company and there are always two opposing factions in the parent company. Look at the removal of Geoff Willis and appointment of Shuhei Nakamoto, for an example of that.

    People criticise Nick, but I’ve always found him a very bright, ambitious and above all personable bloke.

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  15.   15. Posted By: MM
        Date: December 8th, 2008 @ 12:54 pm 

    Mr. Allen,

    Thank you for your humanization of the affects of the financial crisis on the Honda F1 team. I would like to comment on your article.

    I have been a fan of F1 for more than 20 years. When the season ends, I (literally) count the days until the next season begins. “ALL” the personalilties in F1, from the drivers to the people who push the brooms at the end of a race weekend make F1 what it is – and I love it.

    The current state of financial affairs affetcs many. So let’s keep some perspective. Everyone choses their their career path. And most careers in this world are not guaranteed. While sad indeed to lose a job/career, we lay in the beds we’ve made for ourselves.

    I live in the US and hear on daily basis how everyone has a “right” to their job. Here, at least, you do not have that right. You have the right to “…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” “Pursuit” being the key word.

    With risk, there is reward…the “risk” of a career in F1 brings with it its own unique set of “rewards”….glitz, glamour, travel, and hopefully an income one can live on. If you’re someone who is (professionally) risk-averse, than you should opt for a more stable career, albeit for less money. The military, the police, the fire service, etc. At the very least, one should go into such professions as racing with a “Plan B” for when it ends – however it ends.

    Finally, while a life-long F1 fan, I also understand it’s a “disposable pleasure” in the bigger scheme of life. After the initial (and very legitimate) shock of losing ones job begins to lessen, how about a little perspective? Given all the tragedies and everything that goes on in the World on a daily basis, is F1 really that big a piece of the puzzle?

    I wish all those in F1 who are now affected by the money crunch, in particular Honda F1, nothing but the best of luck in whatever they do next. And if that “next” does not include F1, I hope they appreciate their participation in the World’s greatest motor sport.

    Thank you

    MM

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  16.   16. Posted By: Chris Hoper
        Date: December 8th, 2008 @ 2:01 pm 

    Great article James.. feel so bad for those fantastic team players.. i can only hope someone steps in and takes on this fantastic team.. if only i had the money!!!

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  17.   17. Posted By: Lady Snowcat
        Date: December 8th, 2008 @ 8:00 pm 

    Many thanks for the response James, I shall try to keep you guessing…..

    I sense that you too are not completely convinced by the ever smiling Mr Fry…

    Bright, personable and ambitious doesn’t make you street smart or a leader in my experience….

    It often makes you a “Yes” man…. which can help you survive……but only in the short term…. unless you can actually deliver….

    But it also means you are all too likely to trip over your own ego….

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  18.   18. Posted By: Finn
        Date: December 8th, 2008 @ 8:39 pm 

    This isn’t the end for these people … in fact hey may well have a much brighter future ahead of them.

    The two Red Bull teams have done far more for F1 as teams (not engine suppliers in the case of Honda) than Honda and Toyota have done … H&T have tried to use F1 for marketing reasons and heir own self-gratification, and so I for one am overjoyed to see them drop out of F1.

    The Honda withdrawal is a simple statement by Honda saying they could NOT run an F1 team properly and that they have failed. Released from the corporate mindset of Honda as a car manufacturer, maybe Ross and Nick will be free to push the team forward as a RACING team and not as a crude MARKETING exercise.

    Be happy for these people – they have a great future ahead of them.

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  19.   19. Posted By: speedmerchants
        Date: December 8th, 2008 @ 10:56 pm 

    JA writes: MM thanks for your comments. I agree with much of what you say, check out the final section of the latest post Night at the Oscars.

    As to Scott’s question, none of the Tyrrell people survived the acquisition of the franchise by BAR. In fact there aren’t too many ex-Tyrrell faces around the paddock at all these days.

    Final point on this story, Honda’s withdrawal has given an excuse to any sponsor or manufacturer looking to get out. In the New Year we will see some movement on this.

    [Reply]


  20.   20. Posted By: Mike Ellison
        Date: December 10th, 2008 @ 3:51 am 

    I always felt purchasing BAR was a mistake for Honda just as choosing BAR as the exclusive engine customer before that had been a mistake. Something about BAR never quite felt right to me. Jacques kept talking them up but I think he stagnated there.

    [Reply]

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