Some unfinished business
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The Honda goosechase
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The Honda goosechase
Posted By:   |  16 Feb 2009   |  5:43 pm GMT  |  0 comments

Time is short with the first Grand Prix of 2009 just six weeks away. The former Honda team is in a race against time to be ready with Honda still paying the bills to keep the team a going concern in case a deal can be done to save them. Honda has a strong desire to see this happen as does Bernie Ecclestone.

Behind the scenes work goes on; the team has had a Mercedes engine and gearbox for some time to get the installation worked out in case the deal to save the team comes off. The problem is that those last minute engine changes always breed reliability problems.

Remember Williams when it clinched a late deal with Cosworth for 2006 after BMW pulled out? The car had been designed around the BMW engine and the following year’s car had all sorts of reliability issues with exhausts and so on. I’m afraid that even if the team is saved, they will surely have some smoky retirements in 2009. More frustration for Jenson Button..

The Honda rescue has become a bit of a soap opera. There has been a lot of misinformation in recent days about the future of the team. A lot of stories have been and continue to be, written which are well wide of the mark.

Last week everyone seemed to be getting very excited about a Brazilian sponsored management buyout, but that seems to have been fanciful. Petrobras was the only big sponsorship deal the Honda team had managed to do, but they made it clear that they were in it because of the business dynamic with Honda and are not interested in the new team. Bruno Senna does bring a hefty chunk of sponsorship with him, so his part in a future team could still be on cards.

Actually that Petrobras deal was done ages ago, last summer in fact, but was not announced. It was the deal Williams used to have.

Now a new party has entered the picture, a serious bidder with a strong brand, we are told. I’m in Italy at the moment and there is some speculation here that it could be Virgin.

Virgin is certainly a strong brand, but they’ve not done a lot in this kind of sport before. They’ve had a go in bike racing, but why would they want to get involved in F1? Well maybe they wouldn’t, but as we all know they are happy to licence their brand to credible third parties, as they have done with the Cola, for example.

I’ve seen Sir Richard Branson at Grands Prix in the past, always looking pretty impressed at the scale of the thing. Bernie Ecclestone has an interest in keeping this team going and there could well be some complicated deal being worked because at a time when strong brands like Honda, ING and Petrobras are quitting the sport, F1 could do with someone swimming against the tide and showing F1 in a positive light.

Who knows, it seems a strange fit with Virgin, but stranger things have happened.

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  1. I read today that Roman Abramovich is spending $342 a minute on Chelsea. Maybe he can cut that back to $200 a minute and buy Honda as well…

  2. Adam D says:

    Good article James, just read something similar to what you put about 20mins ago. Virgin of course are just the kind of brand who could go into F1, they’re already well-known and would attract a lot of interest to a team and the sport. Branson of course is an ambitious person and would want to turn the team around in a couple of years. With the regulation changes it could very well happen within 2yrs and the team could be back at the front of the midfield at least.

    You’re right in what you’re saying in that because they’ve hardly had any on-track preparation will be limited and they will more than likely struggle this season. Although they cant do much worse than last year can they?

    I do hope the team are on the grid, 18 cars for me is a few cars too little in my opinion, hopefully Honda can be saved. Then with the upcoming USF1 team likely to enter in 2010, we’re be back to 22 cars on the grid.

  3. Speeder_76 says:

    It’s a good chance like any other. But I believe more when I see some more solid declarations from Ross Brawn, for exemple. But, where I come from (i’m writing from Portugal), I’ve got access to the Brazilian sites and web blogs, and there is a “war” about “where the money is coming” and “if Bruno Senna has signed” or not.

    So… until I see some answers as soon as possible, I think we will see some more “headlines”!

  4. Anthony Helman says:

    I think the time for a rescue is now more or less passed.
    With very limited testing available now, what promised to be a great car with Ross Brawn at the helm will now at best be a cobbled together attempt and will only be a back marker again. Who in the current financial climate wants to commit and invest to a very expensive sport and be in the “also ran ” division

  5. Daniel Hoyes says:

    I think Virgin would be a fantastic fit for F1 actually. They have always gone for a trendy young image – associated with speed, technology and fitness (i.e. gyms, cola, space travel, round world boat races)… the whole brand has always been put forward in a similar to Red Bull… Virgin F1 would be great to see…

  6. john g says:

    According to someone who knows about these things within Virgin, it’s pretty much not going to happen [ Link]

    Can’t help but think that they could have had a buyer already were it not for smiling nick fry ‘vetting’ the potential bidders (whilst planning to buy the team himself). as far as i can see, he has been a disaster for the team since he replaced dave richards. i wouldn’t be at all surprised if the team was taken over on the condition that he wasn’t part of it anymore.

  7. rpaco says:

    Couldn’t agree more John G.
    But we still need ABS :-)

  8. Matthew Bewers says:

    What about David Richards coming back a few years earlier than anticipated and bringing his Prodrive formula in to re-use and eventually replace the BAR/Honda team he once commanded?

  9. Mike Ellison says:

    I can’t see Virgin F1 happening. I’d only believe it if there had been ongoing reports of Brawn and Branson holding serious discussions over the last few months.

    Branson is in the business of launching big businesses. An F1 team is not a big enough business for him to be interested in (even if it became a chassis vendor) and it requires too much commitment to be a Branson publicity stunt. At best I could see Virgin as a sponsor.

    The biggest problems I see are Nick Fry’s fizzling reputation and the flawed BAR DNA still lurking inside the team. The attractive part (Honda) is gone.

  10. john g says:

    as an aside, what do you think about USF1? they appear serious, although have seemingly ruled themselves out of buying Honda which would have been a very easy way into the sport. and that also brings up the question of danica patrick – gimmick or genuine (driving) talent?

    i for one would love to see it happen, and for F1 to go back to indy and montreal too.

  11. rpaco says:

    Well Honda have confirmed that the Virgin bid is real but still say they are negotiating with a number of bidders.
    I hope Virgin do win and then kick Fry out a s a first act, keeping Ross of course. Had Dave Richards been allowed to carry on at the helm instead of Fry, things would have been different, they may even have won something with a much more effective management.

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