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Bernie backs Branson Honda bid

February 20, 2009 11:04 IST
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British entrepreneur Richard Branson wants to take over Honda's Formula One team, the sport's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone told Reuters on Thursday.

"I've spoken to Richard's people about it. He would love to do it," said Ecclestone as he gave the move his blessing.

"I'd like it very much. It would be super. We're working to try to make it happen."

Honda put their British-based team, who have 700 employees, up for sale in December when they announced they were quitting the sport as a constructor and engine supplier.

Although McLaren's partners Mercedes have made it clear they are willing to supply engines, the team have yet to find a rescuer with the first race of the season in Australia on March 29.

British billionaire Ecclestone, 78, said Branson's Virgin Group had made a bid and were the only real alternative to a management buyout being led by the team's existing management under chief executive Nick Fry and principal Ross Brawn.

The other option would be to close the team, a move that could end British driver Jenson Button's grand prix career.

Ecclestone said it was now up to Honda to decide which path to follow.

"I have no idea which way it will go. I wouldn't bet on it either way," said Ecclestone, who faces a starting grid reduced to just nine teams and 18 cars if Honda were to fail.

Asked about deadlines for a decision, he replied: "I think it was about two weeks ago".

The Guardian newspaper reported the cut-off point could be next Monday, with Mercedes setting a deadline for a first payment for the engines.

Earlier this week, a source close to the situation who did not want to be identified told Reuters the Virgin Group had been approached by Honda as one of several interested parties.

"They are looking at it and Branson is thought to be interested," the source added.

Branson has been involved with Formula One before to a minor extent, his Virgin Mobile company sponsoring the Jordan team in 2002.

Virgin Atlantic Japan have also been personal sponsors of Honda-backed Japanese driver Takuma Sato for the past four years.

Branson is a friend and business associate of Adrian Reynard, co-founder of the BAR team that became Honda in 2006. The Honda team factory was built on land owned by Reynard.

Honda have struggled to raise sponsorship for their under-performing team, spending an estimated $300 million of their own money but finishing ninth overall last season.

Despite the credit crunch Formula One may be about to become a far more attractive proposition to new entrants, with new efforts to slash costs.

International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Max Mosley has said he wants independent teams to be able to compete on a budget of around 50 million euros ($63.23 million), a sum that could be raised from the sport's revenues and limited sponsorship.

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