Honda out of F1 with immediate effect?

A few of the F1 news websites are abuzz with talk of Honda pulling out of Formula 1 with almost immediate effect. I must stress at this stage: this is just a rumour.
However, this looks to be more than the frequent will they / won’t they rumours we usually see about Renault. From the tone of the reports it looks as though SOMETHING is up at Honda. Whether that is a budget cut, a sale, or a shut down we just don’t know yet. Anyway, to the reports:

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GrandPrix.com is reporting that their US car sales are down 32% (and so was Toyota’s) compared to last year. They are scaling back on production and their plans to build more factories are on ice.
In terms of the F1 team the story includes this note:

On Thursday afternoon we received a flurry of reports that Honda F1 personnel have suddenly started applying for jobs in large numbers. We have been trying to contact Honda Racing F1 this afternoon but have thus far been unable to reach anyone.

The very next story on the site suggests that they are looking to sell the team by Christmas. Pitpass.com reports that a sale must be made before March 2009. I would suggest either date to be a very tall order although the Pitpass story suggests they have two potential buyers lined up already. Pitpass also says that Honda won’t supply engines to the new owners.

Again that second GrandPrix.com story notes of much higher than usual staff movement:

There is no confirmation from any Honda company officials, but teams across Europe are reporting that they have received a rush of applications from Honda F1 personnel in the course of the day. The fact that the team is not responding to requests for statements is a bad sign, as if the rumours are not correct they would need to be killed as quickly as possible.

It should be noted at this point that there is always a fairly big amount of movement between the F1 teams at this time of year among all levels of staff. GrandPrix.com knows this too, so it must be an unusual pattern for them to comment on it, and a ‘flurry’ in one day is certainly unusual.

The lack of activity from the PR / communications department is highly unusual too, as Honda (along with Renault) usually appear to be among the best at supplying info to the specialist press or TV, at least to my layman eyes.
As GrandPrix.com says, it may be best to wait a few hours and see what the parent company in Japan says after their business day begins.

My thoughts….

This was a complete surprise to me. That this is supposedly a full pull-out is also a surprise as after seeing the news, I thought they’d at least supply engines to the new owners, even if only for a year or two.

While this might not be big in terms of where the team is on the grid at the moment, this is absolutely huge in terms of a major manufacturer leaving Formula 1 – if indeed they are. I hope that they aren’t because, well, this is Honda! If any car company can turn around the fortunes of a badly performing F1 team then surely that company is Honda.

I also feel for the people at Brackley and other sites. I’ve been through a redundancy, it isn’t a nice experience. I hope this is either a) budget cuts, or b) a sale – and I hope it is not c) a shut down of the team.

The other consideration is this: If this is true and they are pulling out, what does this mean for the IRL and ALMS programmes? Are Honda looking at other savings, or are the costs sufficiently smaller that they are able to continue? ALMS can live without Acura/Honda, the series would be weaker (combined with Penske/Porsche out) but long-term it would get over it. IndyCar would be a different story. That would be a world of hurt.

Anyway. This is all conjecture. Let’s see what the Japanese parent company says on Friday.

Just to be clear, I must stress that these ARE just rumours at this point. I hope the websites aren’t putting 2 + 2 together to get 5. Both are known names in the F1 world and both have sources within it. I trust GrandPrix.com because they keep their ear to the ground when it comes to the business side of F1. I also know that Pitpass does some fact-checking before posting stories like this.
I strongly advise checking both. Autosport.com also fact-checks but they don’t have anything on this as I type – keep an eye out for something soon.

If it had been a lesser site I wouldn’t have pointed it out. I wasn’t going to post anything at all today as I have an exam in the morning and need to cram like crazy, but this couldn’t wait!

UPDATE @ 23.38 UK – an announcement is due in Japan at 4.30am UK time. The BBC now has a report up citing Reuters, it seems Fry and Brawn told the other teams at the FOTA meeting earlier this week. I’ll post more tomorrow.

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