Honda has confirmed that it is to pull out of Formula One with immediate effect, and that it is placing its team in Brackley up for sale.

The Japanese giant, which endured a disastrous 2008 season as it concentrated on designing and developing a 2009 challenger built to the sport’s new regulations, has been forced to rethink its commitment to F1 in the wake of reduced production at key car plants (including Swindon) and falling US sales.

In a prepared statement issued early this morning, Honda’s president and CEO Takeo Fukui said, “We, Honda Motor Co. Ltd., have come to the conclusion that we will withdraw from all Formula One activities, making 2008 the last season of participation.

“This difficult decision has been made in light of the quickly deteriorating operating environment facing the global auto industry, brought on by the sub-prime problem in the United States, the deepening credit crisis and the sudden contraction of the world economies.

“Honda must protect its core business activities and secure the long term as widespread uncertainties in the economies around the globe continue to mount. A recovery is expected to take some time.

“Under these circumstances, Honda has taken swift and flexible measures to counter this sudden and expansive weakening of the marketplace in all business areas. However, in recognition of the need to optimise the allocation of management resources, including investment regarding the future, we have decided to withdraw from Formula One participation.

We will enter into consultation with the associates of Honda Racing F1 Team and its engine supplier Honda Racing Development regarding the future of the two companies. This will include offering the team for sale.”

Honda has not issued an official time limit on the sale of its Brackley concern, which employs around 600 people. But sources indicate that if a buyer is not found by the end of December, the team will be closed down.

Given the current economic climate and the scale of development required to build a competitive car for the 2009 rules, finding an investor willing to bankroll such a large operation is likely to prove extremely difficult. There are already rumours that Bernie Ecclestone may step in to try and broker a deal that would keep Honda in the sport.

The decision is bad news for British driver Jenson Button; all of F1’s top teams have already finalised their driver plans for 2009, and most have settled line-ups for 2010 as well.

John McIlroy