Motor : The future looks gloomy

TENERIFE: Honda’s Formula One exit raises fresh questions over whether a sport associated with big money, glitz and glamour can cut costs to secure its future.

The Japanese car manufacturer quit F1 on Friday, saying that in the current economic downturn it needs to focus on its core business of making and selling cars rather than spending $291 million a year to race them on Grand Prix tracks.

In three seasons, and with such massive investment, Honda managed just one race victory.

Toyota, Japan’s biggest car manufacturer, which has seen an even poorer return on its investment with no victories in seven years, said it remains committed to F1.

Worse to come

Yet for a sport that has just crowned its first black champion, British driver Lewis Hamilton of McLaren, following what was perhaps the most exciting finish in its 58-year history, the loss of a major manufacturer could be an early indicator of worse news to come.

“If we don’t cut costs we would lose one team after another and we would end up with no teams at all,” FIA president Max Mosley said on Friday. “If the teams don’t notice now what’s happened, you have to abandon all hope.” Teams such as Ferrari, McLaren and BMW Sauber are not considered under threat due to calculated investment, strong sponsor support and a winning tradition.

But the withdrawal of Japan’s second-largest car manufacturer shows “how important is to reduce costs, which we have been calling for since five years (ago),” McLaren-Mercedes vice president Norbert Haug said. “Our Formula One commitment is based on solid financial foundations.”

Renault also has a strong tradition in motor sport and has two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, whose victories toward the end of last season boosted confidence that the French team can compete for the championship next season.

Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Force India are secure for the time being, so long as their billionaire owners continue to finance their teams.

Japanese team Super Aguri, which was backed by Honda, pulled out of F1 earlier this year. That leaves Williams and Toyota looking vulnerable at a time when solid financial backing is a must.

British team Williams is the last true independent team left on the grid, but has been beset by financial difficulties, with big losses last year. — AP