6 Dec 2008

Honda pulls plug on Formula 1

7:05 am on 6 December 2008

Honda pulled out of Formula 1 with immediate effect on Friday, in a major blow to a sport itself looking to cut costs to survive.

Amid slumping car sales triggered by the worldwide economic crisis Honda were no longer willing to bankroll the Formula 1 team.

The company spent more than $US200 million on its racing team - more than Formula 1 leaders McLaren and Ferrari - but has only won one race this year.

Honda's car sales have fallen by more than 40% in November and it has been forced to suspend production in some of its factories in a bid to cut costs. In that light, motor racing seems like an expensive indulgence.

Honda Motor chief executive Takeo Fukui said a return to the sport could take time, adding that there were no plans to continue as an engine supplier.

"Honda must protect its core business activities and secure the long term as widespread uncertainties in the economics around the globe continue to mount."

Honda team for sale

Mr Fukui said the Formula 1 team would be put up for sale. But the company has little time to find a buyer, with the 2009 season starting in Australia on 29 March.

With Formula 1's power-brokers desperately seeking cost-cutting measures to ensure its own survival, Honda's departure will have serious implications for the glamour sport.

It also leaves Britain's Jenson Button without a drive for 2009, although some teams have yet to confirm their lineups.

Honda's exit leaves the multi-billion sport facing a depleted grid of just 18 cars if no buyer can be found in the extremely tight time-frame available.

It will also prompt fears that other major manufacturers, with their factory production suspended and thousands of staff laid off, could follow Honda's example.

Despite its huge resources, Honda had a dismal 2008 season and was pinning its hopes on next year's new rules levelling the playing field.

Button, a winner for Honda in Hungary in 2006, scored just three points and Reubens Barrichello took 11. The team finished ninth overall.

Honda made its Formula 1 debut at the 1964 German Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring. Its best finish in the constructors' championship was fourth, in 1967 and 2006, although they powered McLaren and Williams to a string of titles in the 1980s and 1990s.

The last team to leave Formula 1 was Honda-backed Super Aguri, the tail-enders who folded for financial reasons in April.

Vow to ensure F1 survival

Formula 1 governing body vowed on Friday to ensure that the sport was financially sustainable.

"The announcement of Honda's intended withdrawal from Formula One has confirmed the FIA's longstanding concern that the cost of competing in the world championship is unsustainable," the International Automobile Federation said.

"In the FIA's view, the global economic downturn has only exacerbated an already critical situation.

"As the guardians of the sport, the FIA is committed to working with the commercial rights holder and the remaining members of FOTA (the Formula One Teams' Association) to ensure that Formula One becomes financially sustainable," it said.