Sir Richard Branson has warned not to expect miracles of F1 2010 newcomer Virgin Racing in its maiden season of top flight competition next year – acknowledging that the team will be 'at a major disadvantage' now that the budget cap initially intended by the FIA is no longer in-place.
Virgin – or Manor Grand Prix as it was known when it was successfully granted an entry into next year's field by the sport's governing body back in the summer – originally applied for a spot on the starting grid on the premise that a strict £45 million ceiling would be imposed in 2010 regarding teams' annual expenditure.
That, Branson explains, made F1 both attractive and affordable to Virgin for the first time, but since former FIA President Max Mosley backed down over his plans in the face of mounting opposition from competitors – particularly the multi-million pound, manufacturer-backed entries – in the guise of the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA), the new arrivals have been left somewhat on the back foot.
“The team is at a major disadvantage,” the Englishman told Crash.net Radio
, “because teams can still spend $400 million this year, and they've obviously got the billions they've spent over the previous years towards this coming year. I do think it's a pity that they (the FIA) caved in a little bit on this point; I think it would have been good if it had been pushed through so that the new teams would have started out on at least a relatively equal playing field to the older teams.
“At least it is coming in within a couple of years' time, and we'll be the one team running at the right budget level from day one. I would urge the FIA not to backtrack again – and we will show it can be done.”
As to his own role within the team – with Virgin Galactic CEO Alex Tai installed as team principal, Manor chief John Booth assuming the position of sporting director and Simtek founder Nick Wirth that of technical director – Branson joked that he hoped to be 'the lucky mascot like last season' with double F1 World Champions Brawn GP, but in truth he well knows that his involvement is likely to bring far more to Virgin Racing than just luck.
“I will, I'm sure, help when I'm needed and will enjoy it, will be involved, will be supportive of the drivers, will go to a number of the races and help get the Virgin Racing team on the map on a global basis, which helps the sponsors,” the 59-year-old explained, “and I'll have some fun in the process!”
“I think one of the things that the Virgin brand does for the team is that it lends not only its brand but also its philosophy – which is to be the people's champion, to provide great value for money and to have that fun attitude to the way we go about doing business,” concurred Tai, who will be an F1 'virgin' himself in 2010. “We want to be the fans' champion in this case.
“What we can do is provide excellent value for money; most of the ten sponsors that we've already announced have not been in Formula 1 before. There's a new price point for coming into the sport now – you don't need to provide a $50 million title sponsorship package to get in – so what we have is a vast array of different sponsors that have come along with us, and we offer them the opportunity to talk to the some 100 million customers that already buy Virgin products around the world and some of the 200 different Virgin-branded companies around the world that do that.
“There is a philosophy inside Virgin to provide good value – we want to do that with our sponsors and we want to do that with the fans. We need to earn the respect within the paddock that we're a real race team and go out there and drive success on-track, and then earn the respect of the fan base. Whilst we're doing that, we just want to have fun.
“Richard obviously has the ability to bring an awful lot of money, but that's a very dumb approach to winning races – that's the paradigm that I think is broken. What we want to do with Virgin coming into the sport, is to apply brains and tenacity and hard work to win races, rather than spraying money at it.”
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