With Honda looking increasingly likely to issue a statement in the early hours of the morning, essentially withdrawing themselves from Formula One unless a buyer is found or a deal brokered, what would happen to the grid for the 2009 season? Is it as easy as saying there will be nine teams and eighteen drivers, or are there further complications that could cause the sport more grief during this troubled time of economic imbalance and insecurity?
It is understood that Bernie Ecclestone requires there to be ten teams and twenty drivers in each grand prix – this is apparently the minimum requirement set in place by presumably the man himself. However, should Honda fail to find a buyer before March 2009, the grid could see only nine teams, thus breaking Bernie’s golden rule.
In this case, it has been rumoured that some teams may be required to field three cars, and in this particular case, two teams would have to run an extra driver to make up the loss of the two drivers from Honda. How it is decided who gets to run a third car is unknown to me, and their status in the driver’s championship and their contribution to the constructor’s championship are also unknown to me and many others. However, it is likely the teams with the most comfortable financial position and with the appropriate levels of staff would have to prepare and race a third chassis. So Ferrari and McLaren, then. Possibly Red Bull if Dietrich Mateschitz was feeling generous.
The loss of a Japanese team could also be disastrous for the Japanese Grand Prix. Although Honda have only been competing again since 2006 (they competed in the 1960’s previously), they have become synonymous with Formula One through their success as an engine supplier to McLaren and Williams during many spectacular campaigns. Japan has a strong fanbase, but they also have/had two teams (Toyota being the second) and for a little while in 2008, Japan also fielded two drivers; Takuma Sato in the junior Honda, Super Aguri, and Kazuki Nakajima for the Williams-Toyota team.
Takuma Sato is oddly enough on the verge of a third comeback (this time potentially with Scuderia Toro Rosso), and Kazuki Nakajima has already signed another year onto his Williams contract. But losing Honda will be a bitter pill for the fans to swallow. The team is much loved despite their less-than-spectacular results, and Jenson Button is adored the world over as the handsome British gentleman that I’m sure he is. Although Honda are based in Britain and have employed two British drivers in their history – Anthony Davidson as a long term test driver and Super Aguri pilot – the Japanese fans seem to love this aspect of the team culture. Losing Honda may lose the faith of a lot of fans.
What about Honda’s chief rival, Toyota? Earlier in the year the team was almost given its marching orders, the automotive giant instead deciding to offer an ultimatum of sorts; buck up and get results, or the plug is pulled. Thankfully for the Cologne-based team, Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock did quite well with the TF108 and improved their position in the standings from 2007. However, Honda left American racing when they could no longer race against Toyota – the rivalry and competition is just as important to the overall brand image than the actual participation. Without Honda, will Toyota decide it is time to start saving a few coins?
And lastly, there are serious repercussions on those people who are possibly, if not already, facing redundancy. Three weeks prior to Christmas for many of the team’s employees and their families, and instead of kicking back with a beer, they are mailing out CVs to other Formula One teams. Possibly upheaving their entire lives just to remain a part of what should be a glorious celebration of skill, bravery, craftsmanship and honour. For those at Brackley I feel.
I said in the comments on the previous post that Bernie Ecclestone should be kicking himself right now, and I stand by those words. For too long the sport has relied on manufacturers to make up the numbers, provide some vitality to the sport and keep the money rolling. But of course, the narrow-mindedness of those who are apparently in control have allowed the sport to potentially initiate a self-destruct sequence.
When I first mentioned those two words, self destruct, back in April, some thought I was being too pessimistic. And although the situation was different (it related to customer chassis), the over-riding feeling was that of the governance of the sport not being shrewd enough to look beyond the end of their nose, let alone a few months into the future.
I sincerely hope Honda can find a way out of this. I sincerely hope this is not the beginning of a snowball. But I feel it should be repeated…
…Formula One’s self destruct sequence
has may have been initiated.
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