After a rumor-filled, three-month buyer search that seemed so much longer, Honda Motor Co. announced from Tokyo on Friday morning it has sold its Formula One racing team to team principal Ross Brawn. The new team will be called Brawn GP Formula One Team. No financial details were offered in the announcement.
Mercedes will supply engines, an effort that called for specific agreement from all other team owners because Mercedes already supplies two teams, McLaren and Force India, the maximum allowed under current rules. Nick Fry, chief executive for the Honda team, will continue in a senior management role at Brawn GP. But the team kept at 700 employees under Honda is expected to shed jobs in Formula One's brave, new fiscally strapped world.
Veterans of 423 grands prix between them, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello will carry on driving for the team that Brawn directed to ninth in a 10-team field last season. After much attention went to developing a new car for rules changes, Brawn had declared the 2009 Honda would be poised to reach the top three this year. The hiccup in his plan was Honda's decision to sell up in the face of a global downturn in auto sales.
The search that brought the names of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim and English billionaire Sir Richard Branson to sports page headlines ended in the team's Brackley, England, headquarters. But it cost Brawn time.
"The past few months have been extremely challenging for the team, but today's announcement is the very pleasing conclusion to the strenuous efforts that have been made to secure its future," Brawn said in a statement. "Firstly, it is a great shame that having worked with Honda Motor Co. for so long we can no longer continue together. I would like to thank Honda for the fantastic co-operation and support we have received throughout this process, particularly those members of the senior management who were closely involved with concluding our agreement, and for the faith they have demonstrated in myself and our team.
"I would also like to take this opportunity to pay due credit to our staff at Brackley. The levels of motivation and commitment that I have witnessed at the factory deserve the highest praise."
Brawn said he was delighted Button, said to be taking a pay cut of millions of dollars to keep his job, and Barrichello, rumored as replaced by Brazilian compatriot Bruno Senna, will drive for his new team. He credited their "vast experience and knowledge" as invaluable to getting up to speed for the season that begins in three weeks.
"In what will be their fourth season together, their experience with our team in Brackley, our systems and our engineers, will prove a real asset," Brawn said.
"It would be impossible to mention all of the people without whom today's announcement may not have been possible," Brawn said, "however I would like to express particular appreciation for the support we have received from Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, the FIA (International Automobile Federation), FOM (Formula One Management), FOTA (Formula One Teams Association), BERR (the UK's Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Bridgestone, our other team partners, and our many fans the world over. The journey ahead will be challenging but exciting, and we know we can count on their continued enthusiasm for our team and its ambitions."
Hiroshi Oshima, Honda Motor Co. managing officer responsible for corporate communications and motor sports, said: "Since announcing our withdrawal from Formula One racing on Dec. 5 of last year, we have conducted various studies and discussions so that the team can continue its activities as a new team. We are very pleased that we could sell the team to Ross Brawn, with whom we have been partaking in the challenges of F1 competition, and are grateful for his decision. We offer our sincerest wishes for the new team, which will be led by Ross."
Team ownership might be the next expected step for someone as familiar with winning world championships as Mancunian Brawn, 54.
A trainee engineer in atomic energy, according to Wikipedia, Brawn joined March Engineering in Formula Three and moved to Formula One with Williams. He briefly joined defunct Haas Lola and Arrows F1 teams. He then worked with Jaguar sports cars.
By 1991 he joined Benetton's F1 team, where he was technical director as young German hot-shoe Michael Schumacher won World Drivers' Championships in 1994 and 1995, when the team also won the constructors' title. The pair moved to Ferrari in 1996 where they built one of the great dynasties of the sport, a force that rewrote F1 rules to even the balance. The effort produced six consecutive constructors' championships, a title Ferrari hadn't won since 1983, and five consecutive driving titles, a championship unknown in Maranello since 1979. Schumacher became the winningest driver in history and put the world title count at an unheard-of seven as Ferrari campaigned some of the most reliable cars to reach race grids.
Brawn left Ferrari at the end of 2006 for a sabbatical, promising to fish New Zealand, and returned to join Honda in November 2007.
Brawn's gift is the ability to read a race and make strategic decisions that win races.
The Brawn team is scheduled to hold a shakedown of the new car at Silverstone on Friday. The team will participate in testing next week in Barcelona, Spain, and again the week after in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. Team name change and engine supplier are subject to FIA approval.