Some of the sport's most influential figures – from Max Mosley to Michael Schumacher and Tony Fernandes – have backed Richard Branson in the British entrepreneur's very public spat with Ferrari, after the most famous and long-standing team in F1 history launched a stinging attack on the state of the 2010 newcomers last week.
In its outspoken 'Horse Whisperer' column on its website, the Scuderia
slated troubled American entry USF1's 'impudence' in continuing to protest that it can make the grade this year, lambasted Serbian hopeful Stefan GP as 'vultures', decried former FIA President Mosley's 'holy war' against the manufacturers that it claimed had led to the current débâcle
and suggested fellow new boys Virgin Racing and Lotus F1 will merely 'limp into the start of the championship' [see separate story – click here
The scornful comments have ruffled more than a few feathers inside the grand prix paddock, and prompted Virgin owner Branson to describe Ferrari as 'sad' and 'foolish' – and to contend that the sport needs new blood to maintain fans' interest, and that smaller, independent teams such as his own will ultimately be able to both compete with and beat the traditional F1 'grandees' [see separate story – click here
“Ferrari should be welcoming new teams because they make the sport much more exciting,” the flamboyant billionaire is quoted as having said by The Associated Press
. “Once the budgets for the established teams come down...then we will see a much more equal playing field.
“We are not used to writing out big cheques for successful, established companies; we like to start things from scratch. We have created 200-to-300 new jobs, we have new technology [and] a new team with Virgin branding. It is much more exciting that way.”
That final remark is a reference to the fact that Virgin initially sponsored double world champions Brawn GP last year, but elected to strike out on its own in 2010 rather than live off the glory of that timely success. Now Mercedes Grand Prix, the Brackley-based outfit's star driver Michael Schumacher – who spent a decade racing for Ferrari from 1996 until 2006, and who remained employed by the Prancing Horse until electing to make his celebrated return to active competition this year – tended to agree with Branson's argument.
“Actually, I think they are doing reasonably well,” opined the record-breaking German legend. “I have seen new teams come into Formula 1 and I have seen gaps of more than five-to-six seconds. Here, we probably see two-to-three-seconds. For teams that have started completely from scratch, I think they are doing a very good job.”
“Wonder what Ferrari would be like on Virgin's budget,” tweeted a concurrent Lotus F1 team principal and AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes, who has enjoyed a degree of pre-season banter with fellow airline boss Branson as the pair challenged the owner of whichever team comes off worse this year to dress up as a stewardess for a day.
Mosley, meanwhile, has also hit out at Ferrari's criticism, defending the FIA's selection process for new teams and launching into a counter-attack of his own, according to James Allen, who lunched with the 69-year-old in London last week.