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Honda CEO shatters personal dream with F1 pullout

December 06, 2008 12:35 IST


Takeo Fukui

For all the disappointment that fans will feel, few could be more heartbroken that Honda Motor will leave the Formula One circuit than Takeo Fukui.

The chief executive of Japan's [Images] No. 2 carmaker has followed his team's performance closely, travelling to the Singapore Grand Prix for his latest viewing in September.

When reporters ask about a race, the former amateur racer rarely skips a beat before launching into a commentary on what went wrong and how he feels about losing.

Fukui joined Honda almost 40 years ago because it was the only Japanese car maker at the time to have an F1 team. If he could, he said in May, he would spend "a trillion yen" to fix Honda's team, which had only racked up one win in the last eight years.

Since its inception, Honda has considered motor sports a symbol of its ambitions and a vital booster for its image.

When critics charged Honda with hypocrisy for participating in the fuel-guzzling sport while promoting a green image with its hybrid cars, Fukui steadfastly defended the F1 involvement as an inspiration for engineers to build great cars for the masses.

So the decision to effectively and indefinitely pull out of the world's most popular motor sport was not an easy one, Fukui said, making the announcement himself in a hastily called news conference at the company's Tokyo headquarters on Friday.

Honda had pulled out twice before since first joining in 1964, most recently getting back in the race in 2000 under Fukui's charge as the head of the motor sports division in his role as senior managing director.

FINANCIAL CRISIS

"It's disappointing to me, personally, that we're pulling out in this fashion, having left no good results," Fukui said, his voice quivering at one point as he delivered the news to a room packed with reporters, photographers and TV cameras.

"But I want this to be viewed as a sign of just how difficult the business has become," he added, citing crumbling sales in North America, Europe and many more markets around the world gripped by the worst financial crisis in nearly 80 years.

"But it's not just the economic crisis; the car industry has prospered for the past 100 years, and it's about to enter a vastly different stage -- the next 100 years -- and we need to prepare ourselves for that," he said.

Fukui, a former engineer who once greeted reporters on a racing track behind the wheel of an F1 car, said automakers worldwide are under pressure to come up with the kind of cars that no manufacturer has much experience making.

Developed countries are clamouring for alternative-fuel vehicles as they tighten emissions regulations, while customers in emerging economies such as India want price-beating, small cars that Honda does not have.

"We have 350 to 400 engineers working on F1, and they will be able to focus on these areas," he said. "I don't want to focus on the fact that we're quitting, but rather what we will have achieved in five years, by quitting."

Still, Fukui is leaving the future open for an F1 comeback one day.

"My feeling of wanting to stay in the race is still very strong," he said at the end of the hour-long press conference.

"I think being in some form of race is crucial for Honda. But we can do this in other ways -- in the MotoGP race, for instance, or in the challenge to develop new technology."

© Copyright 2008 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.
Formula One: The Complete Coverage

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