Motor racing-Honda CEO apologises to Button for F1 pullout

TOKYO, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Honda’s chief executive apologised to British driver Jenson Button after Japan’s number two carmaker pulled the plug on its Formula One team on Friday.

Honda withdrew from Formula One with immediate effect on Friday, no longer willing to foot the estimated annual bill of $500 million amid the global economic crisis.

Button, a winner for Honda in Hungary in 2006, is in danger of being left without a drive next season, though some teams have yet to confirm their line-ups.

Brazilian Bruno Senna, the 25-year-old nephew of the late triple world champion Ayrton, had also been tipped to take the place of compatriot Rubens Barrichello at Honda in 2009.

"It's a real shame and I feel deeply sorry for Jenson Button," the CEO of Honda Motor Co 7267.T Takeo Fukui told a news conference. "We had no choice in the current financial conditions."

Managing Director Hiroshi Oshima said he had informed team boss Ross Brawn and Honda Racing CEO Nick Fry of the decision and that both men had taken the news on the chin.

“I didn’t speak to Jenson so I don’t know his reaction,” Oshima told reporters. “Ross and Nick were of course extremely disappointed but were very professional.

“They understood the economic climate and Honda’s reasons for closing down the operation.”

Fukui said Honda, who like its rivals has suffered a sharp decline in sales worldwide, was not thinking about a quick return to Formula One, either as a team or engine supplier.

The British-based team had a hugely disappointing 2008 season, although Fukui denied that poor results had contributed to the decision to pull out of the glamour sport.

Button scored just three points while Barrichello took 11 as Honda finished ninth overall in the constructors’ championship.

“Results on the track this year have had absolutely nothing to do with our withdrawal,” said Fukui. “It was a purely commercial decision. We must give priority to our core business.”