Honda And Audi’s Departure Leaves More Questions For 2009

In two unexpected moves last week, Honda announced it has ceased its Formula One operations and Audi has ended its European and North American LeMans-based prototype ventures.

For Honda, Formula One is the epitome of auto racing. F-1’s technological base is second to none in motor sports. However with budgets reaching over $200 million, the benefits reaped from F-1 has exceeded the cost.

With speculation rampant in the racing community that one or more American manufacturers may be leaving NASCAR as soon as the 2009 season, it was a surprise that a supposedly healthy company such as Honda would make such a move. Thus, with this latest change, Honda, one of the sports biggest-spenders is also feeling the effects from the worldwide financial crisis.

“Honda must protect its core business activities and secure the long term as widespread uncertainties in the economies around the globe continue to mount,” Takeo Fukui, the chief executive of Honda, was quoted at a news conference in Tokyo. He added, “I offer my sincere apologies to everyone involved.”

After the Honda announcement came word of Audi was “adjusting” its motorsports presence in 2009. Thus, the most successful manufacturer in the American LeMans Series will not be defending its LMP1 Championship

It was announced that Audi will be focusing on the new R15 TDI sport prototype that they have developed for the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. The R15 TDI is a modified race touring car A4 used on the DTM circuit. It was noted that Audi will also concentrate its motorsports efforts on the newly developed R8 LMS for customer use in the GT3 class

Since 2000, Audi has dominated the ALMS series. Audi has won the LMP1 title nine-times in a row with the R8 and its successor the R10 TDI.

It was announced that Audi AG will continue its involvement in Europe through 2009. The new Audi R15 TDI sports prototype will debut March 21, 2009 during the 12-hour race in Sebring, Florida.

Meanwhile, the cost Honda was paying to sustain their two-car F-1 team was staggering. The team with drivers, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello cost Honda an estimated $217 million in 2008. The price proved too steep amid weak international auto sales and a rising yen.

While American manufacturers such as GM, Ford and Chrysler have seen their car sales drop significantly, Honda has felt the pinch as their November sales in the United States fell 32 percent.

However, Honda is looking for a new owner to purchase the operation lock, stock and barrel before the 2009 season begins in March in Melbourne, Australia.

The environment that the Honda F-1 team was operating in made it hard to succeed in these suddenly difficult financial times. The latest numbers released for the ’08 season in Formula One are astounding. The eleven participating teams spent $1.6 billion during the 2008 season. While many including this author balked at Max Mosley’s suggestion of a crate engine program in F-1, cost reduction will be needed – the circuit’s governing body, the International Automobile Federation, has called its spending figures “unsustainable.”

After Honda’s announced departed the federation said “the global economic downturn has only exacerbated an already critical situation.”

With Honda gone, one has wonder what is Toyota’s future? Toyota, who is the world’s largest automaker, saw their November sales plunge 34 percent.

While Executives of GM, Ford and Chrysler testify to Senate and House committees last week, asking for $34 billion in loans, some may doubt about their continued involvement in NASCAR.

Meanwhile speculation continues on the future of Petty Enterprises who is now owned by Boston Ventures a private equity firm. Will they merge with Gillette Motorsports? Gillette Motorsports had purchased majority ownership from Ray Evernham who started the team in 1999. The days of a “car owner” being a fellow in a polo shirt, briefcase and sponsor seeking brochure in NASCAR is being replaced by Corporate Boardrooms.

Share Button