The effects of the global recession struck F1 like a commercial tsunami this morning.
Honda is quitting the sport's top racing category and will be closing its operation at Brackley, Northamptonshire, with the loss of more than 700 jobs, unless a buyer can be found within weeks.
The news was made public in a formal announcement from the Honda corporate headquarters in Tokyo. It will leave Jenson Button out of a drive for next season and destroy any prospect of Bruno Senna, the nephew of the late Ayrton Senna, replacing Rubens Barrichello as the British driver's team-mate.
Button, who won the current team's only grand prix victory in Hungary two years ago, will find it difficult to find an opening elsewhere as all the top teams have already finalised their driver line-ups for 2009.
Honda's decision has also triggered fears that Toyota, who have been competing in F1 at huge expense and with little success since 2002, could follow Honda's example and quit the sport.
The other F1 entrants were told of Honda's decision at a meeting of the Formula One team's association in London on Wednesday, and the workforce were told last night that they would be on three months' notice as from the start of January.
If Honda withdraws from F1, many will conclude that it has vindicated the stance taken by the FIA president Max Mosley. Mosley warned earlier this year that the sport was becoming unsustainable in the current economic environment because of the prohibitively high budgets involved.