F1: Will Honda ask for a government bail-out?

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarThursday, January 29th, 2009

 
 

Honda Racing is reportedly in talks with the government about securing a share of the £2.3 billion recently earmarked for bailing out the country’s beleagured car industry.

If the story is correct it could offer an unexpected get-out-of-jail card for hundreds of Brackley workers waiting to hear since early December whether their jobs can be saved.

It will also represent a stunning piece of creative thinking, presumably by the management team of Ross Brawn and Nick Fry, based on the fact that the Midlands is a world centre of excellence for motorsport and benefits from thousands of industry jobs.

The story, broken today by The Guardian and subsequently widely reported by publications including The Telegraph and Autosport, has yet to be fully confirmed by Honda Racing itself.

The Guardian quotes a team statement as saying: “We have had meetings with BERR [The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform] over the future of the team on several occasions over the past month.”

It also quotes a BERR spokeswoman as saying: “There is no reason why Honda Racing couldn’t apply.

“We expect any company in the automotive industry or in its supply chain with a turnover of £25m or more to qualify if it has a viable project to deliver the objectives of the support package. All applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis.”

However Autosport’s Jonathan Noble writes that he received “a firm no-comment” when attempting to check the story out for himself.

It seems safe to say that if the move was tried and proved unsuccessful, or was shouted down by public opinion before it could be considered, it would finally nail the idea that Formula One can ever expect any kind of subsidy from the British government.

The Guardian certainly knows where it stands: “Lord Mandelson’s £2.3bn bail-out of the car industry — ostensibly aimed at shoring up jobs in towns such as Swindon and Luton — could end up being deployed in the pit lanes of Monte Carlo.”

This is, to put it politely, a terminological inexactitude.

Since places like Brackley, Enstone, Milton Keynes, Grove, Towcester and Woking are as much a part of the UK as Swindon or Luton and just as liable to taxation, presumably their workers are equally deserving of the job security that government support would bring.

And mentioning Monte Carlo with its overtones of tax exiles, fancy yachts and hedonism is nothing more than a slap in the face for a regional engineering workforce that has had to face months of doubt and uncertainty.

Elsewhere, Honda Racing has moved to end speculation that the looming first of February will represent a hard deadline that will see the team wound up on the spot.

The BBC reports a Honda Racing spokeswoman saying: “Don’t focus too much on speculation regarding time frames and deadlines.

“Work on our race car is progressing well. We’re optimistic but may not be able to say more for some time.”

Word is that the silence from Brackley Towers is down to the fact that a deal has been struck and is waiting for sign-off from Japan.

If so, it’s certainly not David Richards signing on the dotted line as he is quoted in Autosport wishing the team all the best in finding a buyer.

Oh well – we guess we’ll all know soon enough…

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