Sir Richard Branson has vowed to make F1 even more of a 'sexy beast' than it already is with the arrival of Virgin Racing in the top flight in 2010 – and prove to the likes of heavyweights Ferrari that 'you don't need to spend hundreds of millions to have fun'.
Branson and Ferrari became engaged in a war of words late last week, when the most famous outfit in F1 history criticised what it described as the sorry state of the 2010 newcomers – Virgin included – the best of whom it suggested would barely 'limp into the start of the championship' [see separate story – click here
The legendary Scuderia
, of course, was one of the teams most opposed to the ultimately postponed introduction of a £40 million budget cap, the controversial final cause célèbre
of former FIA President Max Mosley last year – but Branson is adamant that on-track results need not cost a fortune to achieve, even if the initial testing forays of Virgin Racing have been bedevilled by myriad teething troubles and hydraulic woes.
“I think the one thing the Virgin team will prove is that you can have a really good racing team, running very fast, within a very tight budget,” the British billionaire is quoted as having said by AFP
. “There is no need to do massively expensive wind tunnel testing, or all the other things that they do to get the extra second or two. Give it a year or two. You cannot just build a new team from scratch and immediately start beating Ferrari that has spent £400 million on a car, whereas Virgin has spent less than £40 million.
“[Virgin] will show the other F1 teams that they could reduce their budgets to the £40 million cap that was planned for this year but has been delayed – and have just as much fun. You don't need to spend hundreds of millions to have fun. You can do it within a cap of £40 million and people can have just as much fun, and it will be just as exciting out there on the grid.”
Virgin, indeed, is disposing of what is arguably the lowest budget in F1 this year, and if drivers Timo Glock and Lucas Di Grassi have generally languished around five seconds shy of the leading pace around Jerez de la Frontera and Barcelona, Branson makes it clear that he does not expect that to be the case forever.
Explaining that he derives infinitely greater satisfaction from supporting the 'underdog' rather than an established quantity – hence his decision to start from scratch by throwing in his lot with what was initially Manor Motorsport in 2010, rather than continuing Virgin's ultra-successful, eleventh-hour partnership with double 2009 world champions Brawn GP into a second consecutive campaign – the 59-year-old entrepreneur is palpably intent on having more 'fun' still over the forthcoming campaign, even if he is remaining realistic about initial goals.
“What I discovered last year was that there are a billion people who watch Formula 1, and the majority are fanatical,” he is quoted as having said by Sky Sports
. “The Virgin brand is maybe one of the top 20 in the world, so for us to be involved is good for the brand, and Formula 1 is a sexy beast. We're going to try and make it look a bit sexier, but it's also fun [and] exciting, and those are attributes that apply to the Virgin brand.
“We also love supporting an underdog, and we like that underdog to have some pretty good qualities. Last year it was Brawn; this year it is us. We've found it a lot more exciting and fun to support a new team coming in than writing out a very large cheque for an already-established team.