Glamour of F1 falls victim to economic turmoil

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The Independent Online

Many would have assumed the glamorous world of Grand Prix motor racing would have been immune from the current economic turmoil.

But the hundreds of people who work at Honda's Formula One headquarters at Brackley in Northamptonshire have learnt that the financial crisis is likely to have brought down the chequered flag on their immediate livelihoods.

With Honda pulling out of F1 unless a buyer can be found, there are also career worries for Honda's drivers Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello.

They could be left without drives for the F1 season which begins in Australia at the end of March 2009.

The decision to quit the track follows a lack of success in Grand Prix and the devastating effect of the world recession on Honda vehicle sales worldwide.

Honda finished fourth in the 2006 constructors' championship but only managed eighth in 2007 and was ninth this year.

Barrichello managed to come third in the wet of the British Grand Prix this year and earned 11 of Honda's 14 points. Button had a miserable year, ranking 18th in the driver's list.

In 2007 the team had introduced a radical logo-free livery on its car and instead promoted an environmental charity.

The disappointments on the track came as Honda's main vehicle business struggled to cope with the deteriorating world economic conditions.

Honda's plant at Swindon in Wiltshire has been a huge success story, turning out 225,000 vehicles a year, with the company having invested about £1.38 billion in the facility.

But Honda has announced a big downturn in production next year, with the plant closing during February and March.

Yesterday, the UK new car sales figures for November 2008 showed that Honda new registrations had dipped more than 42 per cent - a figure above the national average of nearly 37 per cent.

Honda entered the Grand Prix scene in 1963, with driver Richie Ginther winning the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix, and Britain's John Surtees triumphing in the 1967 Italian Grand Prix.

But Honda quit F1 in 1968, not returning until 1983 and then only as an engine supplier in an arrangement that lasted until the end of 1992.

In 2000, Honda provided engines for the British American Racing (BAR) team, purchasing, first, 45 per cent of BAR in 2004 and the rest the following year.

From 2006 the team raced as Honda Racing F1 Team, with Button winning the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix.

In November 2007, it was announced that Ross Brawn, who had masterminded a clutch of world titles for Michael Schumacher, would be joining Honda as team principal.

But his presence failed to inspire the team to track glory this season and now it seems that Honda's F1 challenge has hit the wall for good.