Richards steps down as Honda buy into BAR

Honda yesterday allayed any fears Jenson Button has about the competitiveness of the BAR team, to which he must stay contracted in 2005 after his attempt to move to Williams was thwarted last month, by purchasing a 45 per cent shareholding and ramping up their technical investment.

Honda yesterday allayed any fears Jenson Button has about the competitiveness of the BAR team, to which he must stay contracted in 2005 after his attempt to move to Williams was thwarted last month, by purchasing a 45 per cent shareholding and ramping up their technical investment.

The move means an end to the stewardship of David Richards, whose Prodrive company was brought in on a five-year deal in 2002 by team owner British American Tobacco, who retain a 55 per cent shareholding. There was such a strong turnaround in performance that BAR Honda finished the 2004 season second only to Ferrari.

Richards denied he had been a victim of his own success. "I delivered what I said would take five years in only three, and you cannot look upon that as a down. It's very positive. The senior directors at BAT are over the moon."

BAR racked up debts rumoured to be as much as £100m before Richards's management brought organisation and performance, and Honda began detailed talks about buying a shareholding six months ago. Richards's role as team principal will be taken by his right-hand man, Nick Fry, a former Ford director who put the rescue plan for Aston Martin into place before leaving to join Prodrive. Honda were wary of Richards staying on because of Prodrive's involvement with other manufacturers, particularly Subaru in the world rally championship and Aston Martin at Le Mans.

Having arrived back from holiday in Australia at 5am yesterday morning, Richards added: "We have gone from one stage to another. It is by mutual wish that I won't be around in 2005. You have to pick your moments, and this was the time. The Prodrive era is over, and I clearly have a lot of obligations to other people... If and when Jenson wins next year, I will be very happy."

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