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Page last updated at 16:09 GMT, Friday, 5 December 2008

Picking up the pieces at Honda

Honda F1 chief executive Nick Fry
Honda F1 chief executive Nick Fry says it is business as usual

By Ollie Williams
BBC Sport at Honda F1 headquarters, Brackley

"We are the centre forward and having beaten every other player, with only the goalkeeper in front of us, we've been brought down."

Nick Fry is an aggrieved man. The Honda F1 chief executive is trying not to show it, wry smile etched into his face, but he - like all his staff - feels as though the rug has been pulled from beneath him.

The decision by the Japanese car giant to withdraw from F1, and take away the 200m budget powering the Brackley-based operation, was a total shock to the 800 staff here.

None of the team's employees say they had any idea, two days ago, that they would be staring at the prospect of redundancy, with the team given just weeks to find a major backer or else face closure.

Fry, who along with team principal Ross Brawn was the first to know several days ago, admits he also had trouble believing the news from Honda's Japanese headquarters.

"First I felt a real, deep, from-the-stomach feeling of sickness, and a feeling of huge disappointment and anger that this had happened to us," he says.


"Ross was very upset when he was told. We were informed by our Honda bosses that the decision had to be made and Ross, especially, was very upset from the point of view that we are so near but yet so far.

"We have the best facilities in F1 which is why Ross came here, we had a good budget - not dissimilar to the other top teams - and we had given up on the 2008 season since we felt it was a better decision to invest in 2009.

"But in the world of F1 you get used to extreme highs and lows. After the initial shock last night, everyone's come in this morning extremely determined and they are carrying on business as usual."

Fry and Brawn spent 45 minutes talking to the Brackley plant's employees on Thursday evening.

Staff at the complex speak of the pair almost as though they are family. You could reasonably expect to walk into an office where 800 people have just been put on notice of redundancy, three weeks before Christmas, and expect some resentment. There is none.

"It's a sound, corporate decision," says one senior member of staff, who has been with Honda's Formula One operation for more than a decade.

Honda Racing Team Principal Ross Brawn
Honda team principal Ross Brawn was one of the first to be told of the decision to exit F1
He has seen Honda's prevarication over F1 in action before, in 1999, when the company set up a development team and had Jos Verstappen testing a car, only to scrap the plans. This, though, feels different: "I've got responsibilities this time. It's at times like this you wish your mortgage was insured," he says.

He adds that employees had been worried when Honda took the decision to close its Swindon production plant for two months, though nobody had been expecting the entire F1 team's future to be rocked like this. "Rumours only started when we were told to attend the meeting yesterday," he admits.

At the other end of the career spectrum, one young Honda employee - who only started his job with the team in June - refuses to blame either the team or Honda.

"We haven't had enough time to produce a decent car," he says, shaking his head. "This is what happens when people in America play with money, people with 30 years in the industry here lose their jobs."

Every member of staff seems to have a catalogue of ideas they're prepared to offer up, in the hope of saving the team.

We don't want to be scratching around, we want to be up the front

Honda F1 chief executive Nick Fry on the team's future

One suggests a rookie driver next year - "half a second slower, but 10m saved" - while another reckons the team could do a good job on the grid with just a quarter of the current workforce.

The turkeys seem prepared to vote for Christmas as long as it's a cracking good dinner. Fry agrees.

"It's great that people are voluntarily coming up with those sorts of ideas, but we don't want to be scratching around, we want to be up the front.

"The car that Ross and the team have designed, which is year one of Ross's three-year plan, is, in his view, capable of being in the top four next year.

"We're nearly there, and this is a huge opportunity for somebody else. They've only got to put a bit of effort in," he concludes, returning to his metaphorical centre forward, "and we score the goal."

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see also
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UK Honda staff facing redundancy
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Honda boss upbeat over team sale
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Honda's F1 years
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Japanese juggling act for jobs
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F1 teams to reduce engine costs
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US carmakers publish rescue plans
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Honda plans to reduce workforce
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Japan carmakers slash production
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