Honda F1 team saved from scrapheap UPDATE The Honda Formula One team will be on the grid for the start of the 2009 season after a management buyout, The Times can reveal. Jenson Button will spearhead the team on the track after two months of intense work on a rescue package by senior managers.
Sources close to the Brackley-based outfit confirmed last night that the deal is going ahead and that the team will conduct a “shakedown” test of their new car at Silverstone next Thursday, which will be Button's first outing in the new machine.
The management buyout is being led by Ross Brawn, the team principal and former Ferrari technical director, and will be funded by a combination of money from Honda itself for this year, funds from Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One commercial rights-holder, and commercial sponsorship. Recent reports suggested that Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group could be a backer but this was being ruled out by informed sources last night.
It is not yet known under what name the team will operate or in what livery their cars will race. Under independent management, with a chassis designed by Honda and powered by a Mercedes-Benz engine under a supply deal with McLaren Mercedes, the “old” Honda team will be something of a hybrid that is likely to take some time to forge a new identity.
At Silverstone, the new car is expected to run in neutral colors. That outing will be followed by the team's first full test in Barcelona, starting on March 9, which is the last official run-out before the first grand prix of the season in Melbourne on March 29.
While Button is confirmed in one race seat, no decision has been taken on his team-mate. This will be either Rubens Barrichello, the Brazilian, who has been with Honda for the past three seasons, or his compatriot and Formula One rookie, Bruno Senna, 25, the nephew of the great Ayrton Senna. Button will be relieved to have a drive, but there will be question marks about the competitiveness of his car.
The buyout is expected to safeguard the jobs of “the majority” of the team's 700 employees and was approved at a board meeting of the Honda Motor Co Ltd in Tokyo last Monday. After that meeting, Takeo Fukui, the company's chief executive, was quoted as saying that no “serious buyer” had come forward and the company was finding the sale process “difficult”. His comments were taken at the time as a sign that winding up the team was still a likely outcome. It now seems that these remarks were misinterpreted.
The decision by Honda to approve and support the buyout which is regarded as highly unorthodox by senior managers in Tokyo, is a sensitive matter for a company that had made clear to its shareholders that it was withdrawing from a sport that was costing it more than £200million a year. London Times02/26/09 Jenson Button's Grand Prix career has been saved at the 11th hour - and so has the Honda racing team, which was last night secretly readying for its first test of 2009.
Sources in Japan revealed the car giant had rejected a takeover bid by Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson.
Instead the board in Tokyo has accepted a £120million deal from a management team led by design genius Ross Brawn and the final legal hurdles are being resolved.
Button is expected to test a Mercedes-powered machine at Barcelona or Jerez the week of March 9 with a shakedown squeezed in before that if possible.
Rubens Barrichello and Bruno Senna are top of the shortlist for the second seat.