Responding to claims from F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone that one of the new teams may struggle to see out the season this year, Sir Richard Branson has vehemently denied Virgin Racing's future could be under threat – insisting that the problem-beset squad 'will go all the way'.
Some five-to-six seconds shy of the leading pace thus far during its maiden campaign of top flight competition – much like fellow newcomers Lotus and Hispania (HRT) – Virgin's efforts have been further hampered by persistent reliability woes, with hydraulic, gearbox and engine issues the principal causes for concern.
That has resulted in Toyota
refugee Timo Glock
and F1 rookie Lucas Di Grassi recording no fewer than nine DNFs between them over the course of the first six outings – though some progress was made in the Spanish Grand Prix
in Barcelona earlier this month, when both saw the chequered flag.
Further embarrassment was generated in late March when it emerged that the fuel tank of the Nick Wirth-designed, Cosworth-powered VR-01 is not large enough to reach the end of a race at full speed regardless of reliability – necessitating a costly re-design.
British billionaire Branson, however, is adamant that despite having elected to go it alone after enjoying double world championship success with his £2.4 million backing of Brawn GP
in 2009, he is having no second thoughts about his three-year sponsorship and renaming agreement with Manor.
“I'm surprised Bernie said that,” he told British media of the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive's comments last week. “He might know something about the other new teams that I don't, but this Virgin will go all the way to the end of the season and hopefully for many seasons to come – we certainly would like to.
“It's actually just as fun being one of the new guys on the block as winning. It's a different kind of experience. If we'd stuck with Brawn for another year we would be £50 million worse off, and they're not winning – so supporting and building a new team from scratch is very exciting.
“We've got to bridge the gap [to the front]. It's a lot, but is to be expected of a new team. It's been a challenging start and there will be technical problems, but even the teams that are spending £300m on their cars have technical problems. It was incredibly pleasing to see both our cars finish [in Spain], and to do that within five races is pretty good going. If the team continue the kind of progress they've made to-date, we'll be delighted and we'll continue to support it – and there's no reason why we shouldn't.
“We went into this with our eyes open, and we plan to stick with it as long as they can get other sponsors on-board as well, which they are managing to do. It's great that other people see the excitement of sponsoring a new team, and are joining us to see the team build over the next few years. Although this team is running on less money than all the other teams, it's still a lot of money and we want to spread it out among a number of people.”