LONDON (Reuters) - British entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has made a bid for the Honda Formula One team, a source close to the Japanese manufacturer told Reuters on Tuesday.
“They have made a bid to purchase the team,” said the source, who declined to be identified.
A spokeswoman for Branson declined to comment, saying the Virgin Group was “constantly named in speculation and rumour”.
“We do not comment on speculation,” added a Honda team spokeswoman.
If confirmed, the offer could scupper a planned management buyout being led by the team’s current chief executive Nick Fry, principal Ross Brawn and three other senior Honda Racing executives.
With the Formula One season due to start in Australia on March 29 and time running out for a rescue of the Brackley-based team, a decision by the Japanese manufacturer is likely by the end of the month and possibly within days.
Honda put their team up for sale in December after announcing they were withdrawing from Formula One as a constructor and engine supplier due to the global credit crunch.
The decision left the career of British driver Jenson Button in limbo while also threatening the jobs of the team’s 700 employees.
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.
Sato lost his place in Formula One last year when the Super Aguri team folded and an attempted comeback with Toro Rosso failed when that team gave Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais the nod instead for 2009.
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 is situated in Reynard Park.
The source did now know whether Reynard was involved in any bid, however.
Honda have struggled to raise sponsorship for their under-performing Formula One team, spending an estimated $300 million of their own money for scant reward last season when they finished ninth overall.
Since Honda announced their departure, the sport has moved to slash costs and the governing body wants to go even further for 2010.
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.
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.