Sir Richard Branson has revealed that he is 'negotiating' with Brawn GP about the possibility of significantly greater involvement in the team for his Virgin Group – in a move that could inject some much-needed finance into a squad that is already beginning to slip slowly down the Formula 1 grid.
The ex-Honda F1 outfit began the 2009 campaign in a blaze of glory and publicity, tying up with Virgin just hours before Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello stormed to a one-two finish in the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, a race for which few had given them much chance of even making the starting grid following all the winter turmoil and uncertainty at Brackley.
That was followed up by a second consecutive success for Button in Malaysia a week later, but only the bottom step of the rostrum was within reach for the British star last time out in Shanghai, and the 29-year-old fears even that may prove too tough a task in the Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir this weekend [see separate story – click here
]. In order to prevent a gradual decline and keep pace with its rivals, Brawn needs money – and Branson's latest revelation could just be the news the team has been waiting for.
“At the moment we are negotiating, as are other people, and we may or may not end up doing a full branding exercise,” the British billionaire is quoted as having said by F1SA
in the desert kingdom. “Someone could come in and pay a silly price. If that happens, we will bow out gracefully. At the moment we've made an offer we feel we can afford.”
Virgin's initial sponsorship agreement with Brawn was for $250,000 per grand prix on what amounted to little more than a race-by-race basis, but it is understood that a far more lucrative deal is on the cards for 2010, with suggestions title backing – or even a complete rebranding of the team from Brawn GP to Virgin – may be in the pipeline. Team principal Ross Brawn is believed to be pushing for a multi-year contract.