Time is short with the first Grand Prix of 2009 just six weeks away. The former Honda team is in a race against time to be ready with Honda still paying the bills to keep the team a going concern in case a deal can be done to save them. Honda has a strong desire to see this happen as does Bernie Ecclestone.
Behind the scenes work goes on; the team has had a Mercedes engine and gearbox for some time to get the installation worked out in case the deal to save the team comes off. The problem is that those last minute engine changes always breed reliability problems.
Remember Williams when it clinched a late deal with Cosworth for 2006 after BMW pulled out? The car had been designed around the BMW engine and the following year’s car had all sorts of reliability issues with exhausts and so on. I’m afraid that even if the team is saved, they will surely have some smoky retirements in 2009. More frustration for Jenson Button..
The Honda rescue has become a bit of a soap opera. There has been a lot of misinformation in recent days about the future of the team. A lot of stories have been and continue to be, written which are well wide of the mark.
Last week everyone seemed to be getting very excited about a Brazilian sponsored management buyout, but that seems to have been fanciful. Petrobras was the only big sponsorship deal the Honda team had managed to do, but they made it clear that they were in it because of the business dynamic with Honda and are not interested in the new team. Bruno Senna does bring a hefty chunk of sponsorship with him, so his part in a future team could still be on cards.
Actually that Petrobras deal was done ages ago, last summer in fact, but was not announced. It was the deal Williams used to have.
Now a new party has entered the picture, a serious bidder with a strong brand, we are told. I’m in Italy at the moment and there is some speculation here that it could be Virgin.
Virgin is certainly a strong brand, but they’ve not done a lot in this kind of sport before. They’ve had a go in bike racing, but why would they want to get involved in F1? Well maybe they wouldn’t, but as we all know they are happy to licence their brand to credible third parties, as they have done with the Cola, for example.
I’ve seen Sir Richard Branson at Grands Prix in the past, always looking pretty impressed at the scale of the thing. Bernie Ecclestone has an interest in keeping this team going and there could well be some complicated deal being worked because at a time when strong brands like Honda, ING and Petrobras are quitting the sport, F1 could do with someone swimming against the tide and showing F1 in a positive light.
Who knows, it seems a strange fit with Virgin, but stranger things have happened.