Virgin entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has conceded that Brawn GP's success this season is likely to price the team out of his sponsorship range in 2010 - but has not ruled out switching his allegiance to another team.
Branson stepped in to back Brawn at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, after the team revealed that - despite a parachute payment from predecessor Honda - it was not safe from financial worries, but has so far failed to commit to a major deal despite the team's success.
Indeed, instead of the cars driven by Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello switching to the familiar red-and-white Virgin livery, talks have apparently been ongoing while Branson continued to pay a modest sum on a race-by-race basis. The initial agreement is understood to have been for $250,000 per grand prix, and Branson hinted that he was considering a title sponsorship deal as long ago as the Bahrain GP, but that now appears to have been discounted as Brawn stormed to six wins in the first seven races. Instead, Branson admitted, it may be time to look at an alternative bearer of his support.
"Their value has gone from next to nothing to £50m a year," he told BBC Radio 5 Live's Sportsweek
programme from Silverstone, "We're delighted for them, [and] we have most likely got the mileage we needed from [the deal]. I suspect, next year, the price will be astronomical and we may have to look somewhere else with a smaller team."
The Brawn team has announced new partners at regular intervals since Melbourne, but has yet to reveal anything close to title sponsorship, and owner Ross Brawn admits that it is an issue that needs to be addressed before 2010, particularly if the FOTA teams - of which Brawn is one - defects from the FIA F1 championship.
"I think the FOTA teams are confident that their sponsors will follow them into this [breakaway] championship," he said, "They've had discussions with their sponsors and a lot of people see this as a new and exciting opportunity to re-shape Formula One. [However], there has to be a structure which supports the small teams [and] I'm confident a system will be in place to provide the funding that teams like mine will need."
Branson, meanwhile, called for the respective factions to resolve their differences to prevent a split.
"I think it would be a great pity," he said, "Both sides need to sit down and sense needs to prevail. There are good arguments on both sides. Certainly the cost base of F1 needs to be reduced - and most of the teams seem to agree to that - but the difference between the two sides needs to be sorted out."