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The Circuit

Can F1 survive the global economic crisis?

  • Story Highlights
  • Honda's withdrawal from F1 makes an 18-car grid for 2009 season a possibility
  • Motorsport chief Max Mosley urges teams to accept cost-cutting measures
  • Mosley's changes would make F1 cheaper and potentially more competitive
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Neale Graham
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The news that Honda is withdrawing from Formula One has come as a shock, as lead driver Jenson Button has acknowledged.

Honda's Japanese rivals Toyota have spent big on seven winless seasons -- could they be next to leave F1?

The Japanese marque's parent company have put the team up for sale, citing the world economic crisis as their justification for no longer spending the reported $300m a year they budgeted for F1.

Yet something like this has been on the radar for some time, not least if you have listened to Max Mosley, the president of motorsport's governing body, the FIA, for the last few years.

Even in the good times, Mosley championed swingeing cost-cutting measures in a sport known for its profligacy. Today, he could be forgiven for saying: "I told you so."

Mosley has already circulated a letter outlining what he believes F1 teams need to do to survive, or at least delay another Honda-style pull-out.

The Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) met on Thursday and announced an agreement on "substantial cost-cutting for 2009 and 2010."

But Mosley wants them to go further, including savage budget cuts and the introduction of a cut-price standard engine -- an anathema for today's F1 teams -- by 2010.

"If the teams don't notice now what's happened, you have to abandon all hope for them," Mosley told the BBC.

"The teams who met are all subsidiaries of these big companies and they could get a fax in the morning saying: 'We're stopping this,' which is effectively what happened with Honda.

"So if they don't wake up to it now, they'll probably get a nasty shock in the future. But our job is to take action to make sure that won't happen. That's why we've sent out a letter to the teams this morning setting out our plans to get the costs right down."

Honda are one of the grid's better-funded teams, even if their results for the last two seasons have been among the worst.

They provided backing for Super Aguri from 2006 until the struggling backmarkers withdrew from the world championship early in the 2008 season, owing to sponsorship issues. Super Aguri were the first F1 team to completely fold in six years.

But according to F1 analyst Joe Saward, who runs e-magazine Grand Prix +, the slowdown in the American car-buying market has put other F1 teams at risk.

He said: "Any company heavily reliant on the US market has to be panicking slightly. Ferrari are a special case, but it's luxury cars that are taking a hit -- Mercedes, BMW and top-end Toyotas (Lexus).

"It's not so much a money problem -- these companies can take a hit for a time -- but it's perception problem. At a time when factories are closing and workers are being made idle, can companies continue to throw money at their F1 programs?

"Toyota might look at this and say it's good time to leave or they might say their chances of winning just improved. It really is a question of how many dominoes will fall."

Honda's case was slightly different to the rest of the F1 pack because they have run without sponsorship for the past two seasons.

Saward suggested that the company had been close to getting an eco-friendly sponsor on board just as the credit crunch struck.

But with no money coming in, car sales down and an expensive new technologies coming for 2009, Honda felt they had no choice but to close their F1 operation.

"Finding people to buy Honda will be tough with the way things are," Saward added. "There's no credit around at the moment."

With Honda's demise making a grid of just 18 cars a possibility, Mosley is determined to prevent it shrinking further and damaging F1's credibility.

And in Honda he now has a compelling case to make the rest of the teams do as he wants.

"Our position is very simple," he said. "We will say, these are the rules for the 2010 championship.

"If you don't want to enter, you don't have to. If you'd like to set up your own series with unlimited expenditure you can do so, but if you want to run in the F1 world championship these are the rules."

There is a case to be made that the credit crunch is the best thing to happen to F1.

It could be that the sport emerges from this period a leaner beast, better placed to cope with future financial downturns and, more importantly, a series where a team's ability to contend is not solely based on the amount of money it has.

If F1 changes as Mosley wants, with emphasis on new, greener technologies and standardized engines and greater shared parts, Honda's departure might one day be viewed as the start of a new golden age of F1.

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