The Impossible Dream

Part of me hopes Toyota and/or Williams go out of business so we can have the top teams running a third car, which I think would be brilliant for F1.

But I suppose, more seriously, I have to say the news of Honda’s withdrawal is horrific news for F1. I’m not convinced by Mosley’s arguments that it shows the need to cut costs; rather, it shows F1 is not a valid business model in an economic downturn. It cannot pay teams enough prize money to guarantee their survival, largely because the company that owns it, CVC, is in hock up to its eyeballs.

But what about Honda? Ironically, it started to go wrong for them as soon as they bought out BAR and re-named the team in 2005. That year’s car was not as fast relative to the rest of the field as its predecessor, which had admittedly been flattered by Williams, Renault and McLaren all having less impressive machines than in 2003. Then in 2006 the team’s unimpressive form apparently continued, to the point where it sacked Geoff Willis for his failure to deliver a race-winning car… except the car then did win a race, and the squad had a strong back end of the season.

And the 2007 and 2008 machines… we all know about them. They seemed to result from the team switching to being run by corporate executives with a big business philosophy, rather than by racing men like Willis: it’s the same reason why it would be astonishing to see Toyota taking regula race wins; and surely the recruitment of Ross Brawn recognised that switching to this mode of racing had been a mistake. Would the execs have pulled the plug so readily if the mistake had never been made and the team had been a front-runner this year? We’ll never know. But there’s a case for saying the roots of the decision lie in the disappointments of 2005 and 2006 that led to the sacking of Willis.

But the team surely also suffered for its failure to attract a title sponsor: Honda had to pay for the whole shebang themselves; all that nonsense “Earth dream” branding was just disguising the lack of a big backer.

There are silver linings for the team, however. As they are the first team to fold, they are well-placed to court possible buyers: if there is a viable deal to be had, perhaps the former Honda squad will snap it up before any future failed teams can. And I hope it happens: the points Fry and Brawn have been making about the desirability of the assets in the team are sound, and it will be an agonising “what if?” of Formula One history if the 2009 Honda is never given a chance to meet its challenge of returning the team to the top.

The big loser in all this is not Button, but Barrichello: he is not under contract, and even if Honda would have retained him, it seems unlikely a new buyer will sign him up – more likely they will want a younger and sponsor-laden driver. That said, things look tough for Button: even if he is left without a drive, he will be too late to sign up for the BBC’s commentary team, which will be a real shame – I remember thinking he was an excellent addition when he made a guest appearance for Monaco in 2005.

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