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Why did Honda turn Bernie down?
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Why did Honda turn Bernie down?
Posted By:   |  22 Feb 2009   |  8:41 pm GMT  |  15 comments

Interesting tale in the News of the World today, where Ian Gordon has managed to get an exclusive with Bernie Ecclestone on how the Honda management team turned down his offer of financial help with their buyout of the team.

Bernie has done a series of ‘exclusives’ lately; with the FT, the Telegraph, the Express and now the NoW. The Times has been his channel of choice for years, but he now seems to be spreading it around a bit more.

This story is interesting because in it Bernie reveals that he proposed putting up some of the money to back the management buyout in which both Nick Fry and Ross Brawn would have taken 17.5% of the equity in the team. The value of Ecclestone’s offer and the percentage he would have received are not revealed. A figure of £100 million is mentioned as the cost of competing this year, but they will be able to do it for less than that, if they have to, and there is no suggestion that’s what Bernie offered. I would be sure the figure he had in mind was less than a third of that. It’s all a bit Dragons’ Den, where every now and then the money man gets turned down by the poor soul pitching his business idea.

So why did Honda and the buyout team of Brawn and Fry turn it down, and was it as simple as that anyway? Well you can be sure that it must have had a lot to do with the strings attached. One aspect of the deal which Gordon highlights is that a share of ownership of the team would have given Ecclestone the right to access to the Formula One Teams Association, which has been holding private meetings to discuss how ultimately to improve the show and get more money out of Bernie. I’m sure he’d have loved to see all the minutes of those meetings.

An aggrieved Bernie told NoW, “I tried to help with the management buy-out. They should have taken what I offered. It was a very good offer for everybody concerned. It gave them complete protection but they wanted to do things on their own. Now all we can do is hope and pray!”

As I mentioned in my post on Virgin, Bernie will still be involved in the deal if it goes that way, because Sir Richard Branson has made it clear he’s sticking pretty close to Bernie through all of this and he will want some assurances. Branson had his say on BBC Radio the other day, now Bernie has chosen this moment to break the story about his rejection. This must be significant, why would he do it otherwise?

I think firstly it is his way of showing that he has tried his best to save the team and that it’s not his fault if it fails. A bit like Donington and the British Grand Prix. He’s taken to doing this kind of pr appearance where he says “I’m doing the right thing, I’m the good guy here” a lot more lately, especially since he took such a hammering over the story about racism being ‘a joke’ late last year. He wants to show that he’s a strong chief executive – standing at the bridge and steering the ship through the stormy waters.

But his intervention in NoW also has to do with putting pressure on Honda at what is now a critical juncture in this process. They have had chances to save this team, he is saying, they still have chances to save it and do the right thing. But in his words they need to “make up their bloody minds.”

They do indeed.

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15 Comments
  1. dave the chef says:

    nice article James. I think the days are numbered in f1

  2. chris says:

    Very interesting. My view is if Bernies deal is the only one on the table then they have to take it because me and many others want Honda on the grid in Melbourne. If this means Bernie gets his foot in the door at FOTA then so be it. The political wrangling would certainly make for good reading.

  3. Lee Grant says:

    Bernie is complex and as a fan I really have no idea of what things are really like on the inside of the business – the only thing I really have is the perception of F1 and your article confirms what I thought when I read the interview. Were the strings related to FOTA and if so will we ever know if Nick Fry and Ross Brawn didn’t hand Bernie an entry to FOTA for the sake of Honda.

    On top of all this it sounds as if Richard Branson/Virgin may be getting cold feet as they appear to be unhappy with the F1 business model – is he wrong or has an outsider to F1 realised what all the ‘old boys’ cannot seem to work out?

    I cannot imagine what all the guys at Honda are going through at the moment. They should be getting as excited as the rest of us for the first race in Melbourne – but we know that won’t be the case.

    I really hope that lady luck is about to work her magic on Honda!

    PS: Spot on again James – more strings than Pinocchio I bet!

  4. Clinton says:

    I think having Bernie sitting in on the FOTA meetings would lead to the end of the organization.

    Is that worth $30m dollars to Bernie? I think it could be worth a lot more to him.

  5. Tim says:

    Why turn down Bernie’s offer? I can think of a possible reason.

    Honda’s bargaining position is fairly weak and so Bernie’s proposal is likely to have come with strings attached. Bernie is in this game to make money, not just for the love of the sport, and is unlikely to have offered the team a free gift of £100m. It’s not impossible that the costs of Bernie’s offer were so high outweighed the benefits. Honda and/or Fry/Brawn may believe they could get a less worse deal elsewhere.

    I suspect the access to FOTA’s discussions is bit of a red herring – would Fry/Brawn baulk at possibly undermining FOTA as the price for saving the team? I doubt it, and there are doubtless all sorts of Chinese walls that could be built into any agreement to prevent Bernie getting directly involved with FOTA via Honda.

    Surely much more important to Bernie at the moment is getting teams signed up to the new Concorde Agreement to finally kill any notion of a breakaway series? Did the price of a year’s running costs include The Team Formerly Known As Honda signing up to a deal that required the team to sign up to conditions that would have disadvantaged it for years to come?

  6. BobHereYo says:

    What Part does Honda play in all this? Could it be that they are the ones turning down Bernie not their frontmen Nick and Rosss?

  7. Parag Dhungana says:

    nice one james… you have tried to analyze it very well… but would the european laws allow ecclestone invest such money directly into a team??? wouldn’t that come under scrutiny… if microsoft gets fined for tying its browser with its operating system, then wouldn’t bernie be gettting similar sort of treatment???

  8. Finn says:

    Nick is leaving. Ross has bought the team with A.N Other. Announcement will come tonight/tomorrow morning. Probable Mercedes involvement. Possible RD involvement as well.

  9. Ian Abrahams says:

    Finn: “Nick is leaving. Ross has bought the team with A.N Other. Announcement will come tonight/tomorrow morning. Probable Mercedes involvement. Possible RD involvement as well.”

    A.N Other … so this will be Team Schumacher-Mercedes on the grid in Australia then? ;)

  10. Uppili says:

    A.N. Adrian Newey?

  11. Oscar says:

    Love this forum! The best source for F1 gossip! Hope the news is true and a deal has been done. :)

  12. Raz says:

    A.N Other … so this will be Team Schumacher-Mercedes on the grid in Australia then? ;)
    yeah. can’t see Michael and Mercedes working together, he’s still a Ferrari employee

  13. Alastair says:

    I think Nick Fry and his presence was what scuppered Bernie’s ‘offer’.

    You can be SURE there were strings attached!

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