Honda bosses tell Bernie to butt out
Jenson Button's hard-up Honda bosses have snubbed an incredible £100million rescue offer from Bernie Ecclestone to save the team from the Formula One scrapheap.
Grand Prix supremo Ecclestone told the News of the World he pledged to keep the outfit going. But Honda team principal Ross Brawn and chief executive Nick Fry, who are leading a management buy-out bid, rejected his offer.
Ecclestone was desperate to save Honda and hoped to bring in F1 legend Ayrton Senna’s nephew Bruno to drive alongside Button.
In an exclusive interview, Ecclestone declared: “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!”
Billionaire Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson has also had talks with the Tokyo-based owners of the 700-strong Brackley-based outfit. But the Japanese car giant has warned it might shut down the team, which would KO Button’s F1 career.
Honda spokesman Hiroyuki Murase said: “We are talking with several potential buyers. But if negotiations fail the team may have to be disbanded.”
Ecclestone added: “I don’t think anybody knows what is going to happen with Honda. It is up to them to make up their bloody minds. But the team can go one of three ways. They either go with the management buy-out, sell to Richard Branson or they could simply just close down the whole thing. The silly thing is we have got Bruno wanting to drive. It would be fantastic for everybody to have the name Senna back in F1.”
Honda put a nominal £1 price tag on their F1 team when it put it up for sale last November blaming the recession in the car market. But a new owner will need £100m to fund this season.
Branson last night said: “I love F1. With the Virgin brand expanding on a global basis, it is certainly something that is attractive But there are faults in F1 that would need to be rectified.
“We would need to be sure Bernie Ecclestone is running it, so the teams can make ends meet and we would need to be sure he is on a path to try to turn F1 into a sport that is championing green technology. It would be great fun and something might get sorted.”
Billionaire Ecclestone has helped cash-hit teams in the past, with Williams, Jordan and Minardi all benefiting.
We understand Ecclestone’s offer to back the management buy-out would have ensured the team competed this year. It would have also given the 78-year-old a say in the Formula One Teams’ Association, which wants a greater share of the television money from Ecclestone.
Team chief Brawn and chief executive Fry would have each owned around 17.5 per cent of the new team. The duo have been pursuing Brazilian sponsors like oil giant Petrobras and Embratel, a mobile phone network, to fund their buy-out ahead of the season-opener in Australia in five weeks.
Mercedes have offered to supply engines but have set a deadline of this week for any new team to guarantee they can meet the £7m lease fee for the season. But Ecclestone insists F1 would not be plunged into crisis if Honda fall by the wayside.
He added: “If we lost a McLaren or Ferrari or somebody like BMW, people would wonder what’s going on. But I don’t think that will be the case with Honda. They didn’t do too much last year, did they?” News of the World