Richard Branson has admitted that his Virgin Group's sponsorship of Brawn GP in Formula 1 could ultimately materialise in his ultra-successful global brand taking over the team's name.
It was announced earlier today that Virgin is to become a backer of the Brackley-based outfit in a significant deal [see separate story – click here
] – and both sides anticipate the agreement developing into a 'broader relationship' over the forthcoming weeks.
The partnership was concluded and made public in Melbourne ahead of this weekend's 2009 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix, and Virgin decals have appeared on the pace-setting BGP 001 machines of pole position star Jenson Button and fellow front row-sitter Rubens Barrichello from FP3 onwards.
“We all need more time,” billionaire Branson is quoted as having said by ITV-F1
. “We are a Virgin bride and someone else may come in and offer something even better before this bride marries them – but I'm sure we will get something together.”
Branson has been tempted by a foray into the sport for some time, and looked semi-seriously into purchasing Honda F1 after the Japanese parent company put the squad up for sale back in December – but he ultimately backed out of a bid, citing the fact that he would not be truly interested until the top flight becomes both cleaner and greener.
Amidst the FIA's current focus on drastically cutting costs and saving energy, however – with the introduction of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) technology and plans to bring in an optional £30 million budget cap for teams from 2010 onwards – the 58-year-old could be set for a change of heart.
“I've enjoyed it (F1) for years and in the past got tempted,” he admitted, “but it's been such an expensive sport. The recession has been bringing the cost of entry down to a more reasonable level, though, and the new rules that are coming out to encourage new teams to come in for more sensible amounts of money will make it a more exciting sport.
“When the Honda team got into trouble and it looked like a possibility of it disappearing altogether we spoke with Honda, [but] I think we've ended up with the best of all worlds with a fantastic engineer and a great brand like Virgin. It's something which could develop into something exciting in the years to come.”
And as part of those 'exciting' developments to which he alludes, the British entrepreneur refused to rule out a name change from Brawn GP to Virgin – what would be a firm indication of his company's long-term commitment to the cause.
“It's a possibility,” he reflected. “We'll see what happens over the next three or four weeks. The team don't want to waste the name of the team on something that is not promoting anything.
“Everyone knows that it has a great engineer; the team doesn't need to be named after an engineer, and that may well change. If it happened we'd be committed for a long time.”