Honda's announcement that it is pulling the plug on its Formula One team with immediate effect has sent shock waves through the sport.
The news were also a shock for team bosses Nick Fry and Ross Brawn, who were informed last week.
Autosport.com talked exclusively with Fry about the decision and about the future of the team.
Q. Is it fair to say there is an element of shell-shock at the factory today regarding Honda's announcement?
Nick Fry: Certainly for Ross and I when we were told last Friday it was a big shock. We anticipated budget cut backs and we had prepared a budget that was substantially reduced versus this year. We were aware of the situation but obviously for Honda to pull out was a big shock for Ross and I. It was the same for the staff last night and this morning.
What we have found is that initial shock soon moves to steely determination to succeed, and that is what racing teams are all about. The view here this morning is positive about the situation. They understand the reasons behind Honda pulling out. But is it a question of looking forward and working out what is next. We have the money to continue, and to prepare the cars for Melbourne. We've got the staff paid for the next three months as a minimum and during that period we will decide what to do.
Q. You found out the news on Friday. Was there any pre-warning building up to that period that this was going to happen?
NF: No. It was presented as a decision on Friday because of the global economic situation. Honda have agonized over this, I understand, for some time. This is not a decision they wanted to make but unfortunately the car market is not very well at the moment - it is 40 percent down in the UK alone and similar in lots of other countries. The outlook for the next year is not positive, and unfortunately it is a decision they felt they had to make. We are not on the lookout for people who want to own an F1 team - and this situation is very different from the Super Aguri and Arrows type situation.
They were teams with limited assets. We are sitting here in possibly the best F1 facility in the world, in which Honda have invested in very heavily over the last couple of years. We have the best full-size wind tunnel. We have engine dynamometers, we have a driver-in-the-loop simulator, we have a chassis rig downstairs, we have a contract with Jenson Button and we have got Ross Brawn, who has designed what he believes to be an outstanding car for next year. So there are lots of things that are on our side.
The global economic situation is clearly weak but for someone who wants a fully fledged F1 team that is really teetering on the edge of what could be an extremely good season, this could be a bargain.
Q. Was there anything that could have been done to keep Honda in, or are global events too big?
NF: Honda are affected by events that are far bigger than just this issue, so there was not the possibility of negotiating Honda's withdrawal. What has been clear, though, is that Honda have been very responsible in what they propose. They may consider providing an engine for next year - it may not have a Honda badge on it, but the engine is designed already and built in many cases.
They have agreed to provide us with a budget, not quite the budget we had, but the budget which will enable us to be on the grid in Melbourne, and they will be paying staff for three months before we move into the redundancy phase if that should happen. So we've got a little bit of time. It is going to be difficult, but we have had three different serious groups approach us overnight with a view to taking on the team. So, we will see what happens over the next few weeks.
Q. Are you optimistic one of those parties could result in a purchase, especially in light of the worldwide financial situation?
NF: It is in everyone's interest for Honda Racing to survive. It is in Bernie's interests, it is in the interests of all the F1 teams that we continue, and it is in the British government's interests as we have got 700 very highly paid jobs here, and if that goes away you could see a potential domino affect of other manufacturers potentially deciding to do the same. We've got a lot to offer. The economic situation is against us, but there are still people out there making money - maybe not so much in this country but elsewhere. I have to be balanced about this, but I am hopefully that somebody will come along.
Q. What is the time frame you have got to get a deal sorted?
NF: Well, we have to have credible interest this side of Christmas. Clearly that doesn't mean we are going to have a deal done by the end of the year, but Honda need to be convinced that there are serious, potential buyers out there. If that is the case then we are funded through January and February - so right up until Melbourne.
If we get to Melbourne and we are not there, then clearly at that stage the situation will look very bleak. I don't think there is an instance of a team not starting the season and successfully coming in later - even though the rules allow it. In theory we could miss four races - but so far history shows no one has ever done that. The proof of the pudding will be if we are in Melbourne or not.
Q. Are the three parties who have expressed an interest credible?
NF: All three are credible.
Q. And are they all foreign - perhaps from the Middle East?
NF: They are foreign. I can't say any more.
There are suggestions that an engine package is in place for next year. Is that the Honda option, or is Ferrari also a possibility?
NF: The other F1 teams have been very supportive of Ross, myself and the team. I think that is a very positive and encouraging sign - and all I can say is that we will not be short of an engine. If the Honda engine alternative does not come to fruition, then we have at least a couple of alternatives which have been offered to us - because no one wants to see 18 cars on the grid. They want to see 20, and they want to see us included in that.
Q. Jenson Button's contract has been signed for next year, and the second vacancy is still up for grabs. What is the driver situation - and will Jenson be allowed to go elsewhere if he has the chance?
NF: Jenson needs to clearly look at his alternatives. He is no different to the other members of staff. Obviously we would hope that he would stay - he does have a contract not just for next year but beyond that. He has been very loyal to the team thus far, but obviously he does want to be on the grid. So I am sure we will be having lots of discussion over the next few weeks keeping him informed. In the meantime, I have no doubt other teams might be interested in his services.
Regarding the second driver, clearly it is not such a priority at the moment. We did have several options open to us, including Bruno (Senna) and Rubens (Barrichello) and we will continue to be interested. If this team does manage to get a suitable new owner with suitable funding then it is a very attractive destination because of what we have built up over a period of eight years now. We will see.
Q. Will the preparations for the new season continue as originally planned, or will there be a big cut back - especially on testing?
NF: There will be a cutback. Clearly we cannot carry on exactly as we are. The staff are fully paid for. The parts are paid for. The bits that are not paid for will be paid for by Honda - and we are not going to be able to do a full testing programme between January and March. We will not be in Jerez for the next two tests, so we have to act responsibly and we are going to have to run a more constrained programme for January and February. But the most important thing is to get to at least one of the tests.
The beauty of the situation at the moment for us is that we do have a full size wind tunnel, we can run the car in its proper form, we do have unbelievable rig test facilities to do chassis testing downstairs, and we also have a simulator so we can do a whole lot of work without going to the track.
Q. Honda are one of the biggest teams on the grid in terms of staff size. Will it be able to continue at such a size with a new buyer, or does it need to be slimmed down?
NF: The size of the team going forward clearly depends who the new buyer is, and what their aims are. Seven hundred people is big, but it is similar to other top F1 teams although slightly smaller than some of them. If someone is fully funded, or even be another car manufacturer who is not involved in F1 at the moment - assuming they were interested in technology development - then we may be able to continue with a similar number of people. I think much more likely is that we will cut back, but I suspect the same is going to happen at all the F1 teams.
The cost reductions that were discussed yesterday at the FOTA meeting will unanimously result in big changes for next year anyway - we cannot continue like now. We are heading down a path between the teams of cutting back for next year because we knew we had to, and this unfortunate situation has accelerated that trend. And I am sure from FOTA you will get some feedback over the next few weeks as to what the plans are. Other teams are affected by the worldwide financial situation.
Q. Honda Racing had high hopes for next season, after sacrificing much of this year to focus on the 2009 car. Will your form be hurt by what has happened, even if you find a buyer?
NF: Obviously not being able to test in the first part of next year is a clear disadvantage, but because we are now so late in the year the car is designed. If we have to change engine then we can do that.
After we told the staff last night, they were downstairs looking at what they would have to change if we were to have a non-Honda engine. So there is a huge positive vibe here. Over the course of next season, were we to get a new buyer then I think we can still be very successful.
The car is what it is, the facility is what it is, the people are what they are. So undoubtedly it is going to affect us, but I think we can still do very well. The good news is that Ross has shown every determination to stick with it.
Q. Is Honda's decision systematic of F1 being unsustainable, or is it part of a wider issue for the world?
NF: It is both. This is clearly a worldwide situation that affects all the F1 teams. I hope others don't take the same course as Honda. Clearly there is a risk there, but if the chief executives of the car companies can be convinced that next year's financial requirements are significantly reduced, then maybe we can head off others doing the same. I hope that is the case.
Q. Does F1 need to change?
NF: F1 does need to change, there is no doubt. Max has been saying that for some time - and I am sure he will say people weren't listening well enough, and I think there is some justification in him saying that. Maybe this could have been headed off if we had collectively acted a bit quicker, but there is no point in looking backwards.
The important thing now from the F1 point of view is to react quick enough to persuade Carlos Ghosn and the chief executives of huge motor companies that they should continue to support F1 - and I sincerely hope that can be done.
Q. What was your reaction to Max Mosley's letter regarding standard engines?
NF: Ironically even under Honda ownership we were not against a standardized engine. The Honda view was very much that if the engine could not be free, which it wasn't, then maybe a cost efficient engine was a good thing. Obviously in our present situation potentially it helps us even more. We need to get through next year but if there is a low-cost standard engine after that, and if this team is in good hands, then it could be very helpful to us.