Honda’s decision to sell or shut its F1 operation is a tragedy for the 1000 or so people in Britain alone whose employment directly or indirectly depended on the team’s survival.
But however hard the decision must have been, the reasons behind it are understandable. In 2007 and 2008 it ran without a headline sponsor, and a single podium position this year can’t have made the business of attracting one in 2009 any easier. It was about to enter its 10th season of involvement in F1 with, to date, Jenson’s single win at Hungary in 2006 to show for it.
The news is potentially worse than it appears: Honda is a company with racing in its blood and the highest engineering principles. It is also a very successful company and didn’t get that way by quitting at the first sign of trouble.
If Honda feels it has no alternative but to quit F1, it would be naive not to think other teams were considering their positions too.
Yesterday sales figures for November were released, revealing BMW, Honda and Toyota all to be over 40 per cent down on the same month last year, Mercedes off by 57 per cent and Renault by a calamitous 64 per cent (no figures for Ferrari are quoted).
These figures apply to the UK only but they give a good indication as to what it going on in the major developed markets around the world. Given those numbers, you can see why saving the half a billion dollars needed to run a front-line F1 team was something Honda felt unable to ignore.
One industry insider said to me: "There may be manufacturers breathing a sigh of relief at the Honda announcement. It’s very difficult to be the first to go, but now one has made the move, it may make it easier for others to follow."
All that now seems sure is the perilous position the sport of F1 now finds itself in and the immediate requirement for it to change, or die.