No 'serious' buyer for Honda team

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The Independent Online

Honda Racing's hopes of competing in Formula One this season appear to have suffered a crucial blow as their Japanese bosses have today stated they cannot find a "serious buyer" for the team.

The news comes after F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone revealed an offer to help with a proposed management buy-out was rejected by current chief executive Nick Fry and team boss Ross Brawn.

Honda surprisingly pulled out of F1 in early December, citing the global economic crisis, with the team immediately put up for sale.

Hopes were high they would be saved, despite the overheads needed to keep a team on the grid, so sparing the 700 jobs - including that of driver Jenson Button - at the team's Brackley HQ.

But the chief executive of Honda Motor Co. has confirmed they are struggling to find their knight in shining armour.

Speaking at a news conference, Takeo Fukui said: "There are various offers for the team, but we have not seen any serious buyer yet.

"We find the sale process difficult."

Fukui's comments come after a week of frenzied speculation relating to Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group.

Branson, though, made it clear over the weekend that although he loves F1, any entry would be conditional in terms of costs and the sport becoming more environmentally friendly.

There have also been constant rumours of a management buy-out led by Fry and Brawn, but all within Honda have remained tight-lipped.

As for Ecclestone, he has conceded to being surprised his offer of help was rejected.

"I tried to help with the management buy-out," said Ecclestone in the News of the World.

"They should have taken what I offered. It was a very good offer for everybody concerned.

"It gave them complete protection, but they wanted to do things on their own.

"Now all we can do is hope and pray."

With the season-opening Australian Grand Prix just five weeks away, and with the cars required to head out a week in advance, time is against Honda Racing.

In particular, as their apparent engine suppliers in Mercedes are understood to have imposed a deadline of this week for guarantees the finances will be in place.

However, the ominous words of Fukui - who is to step down from his role in June - appear to make it clear any rescue will now be of the 11th-hour variety.