Honda has agreed a management buyout deal that will keep its troubled Formula One team on the grid in 2009, according to sources.
A proposal from the current management line-up of Ross Brawn and Nick Fry is said to have been approved by the Japanese firm, which put its Brackley-based operation up for sale last December. The Times newspaper is reporting that the team will be funded by Honda itself, in conjunction with television money from F1 commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone (possibly in one lump instead of installments) and sponsorship.
It is likely that the team, which has yet to finalise a new name, will have to shed some of its 700-strong workforce as part of its reduced budget. But the deal will buy the operation time to piece together contracts for 2010, when F1's costs are likely to be reduced. It has even been suggested that Honda could stay involved with the team beyond the end of this year, in anticipation of an eventual full-scale return to the grid.
The deal means that Jenson Button can look forward to a season of racing, albeit one that is likely to be frustrating, given the disruption to the team's design processes over the winter.
His team-mate has yet to be determined, however. Bruno Senna, the young nephew of F1 legend Ayrton Senna, is in the frame for the seat, but only if he brings sponsorship from Brazil. If he cannot secure backing then Brawn and Fry may opt to retain Rubens Barrichello, whose vast experience would be useful in the face of a season-long testing ban.
No official announcement has been made, but Autocar understands that 'Honda F1' will shake down its 2009 challenger (powered, bizarrely, by a Mercedes engine) at Silverstone next week. It will then conduct one further test, probably in Spain, before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on 29 March.