He may ultimately have got cold feet over a Formula 1 entry in his own right, but it would appear that Richard Branson will still have a significant presence at grands prix in 2009 – with his Virgin Group set to officially sponsor Brawn GP.
The billionaire entrepreneur has long betrayed an interest in a greater involvement in the top flight, but the trail ran cold after talks to buy Honda F1 late last year and again early this year in the end came to nought, with Branson reasoning at the time that 'there are faults that would need to be rectified before we could go into Formula 1' – an allusion to his desire for the sport to be more cost-effective and eco-friendly.
However, according to British newspaper The Times
, a multi-million pound sponsorship deal has now been agreed between Virgin and Brawn GP – the team that did emerge from the ashes of Honda following the management buy-out led by Ross Brawn – and an announcement is expected to be made in Melbourne tomorrow (Friday), on the eve of this weekend's 2009 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix and with Branson in attendance.
The agreement marks Brawn GP's first major sponsorship coup, and comes on the back of truly dazzling pre-season testing pace for the Brackley-based outfit that has seen former Hungarian Grand Prix winner Jenson Button surprisingly installed as the bookies' favourite to triumph Down Under.
It is understood that the tie-up will lead to the henceforth unadorned BGP 001 machines of Button and Rubens Barrichello carrying significant Virgin branding – even if the deal is not believed to be one for title sponsorship.