Despite confirmation from elsewhere, Richard Branson has toed the Virgin company line by playing down suggestions that it may be the main candidate to buy the Honda F1 team.

Rumours suggesting that the multi-business giant had emerged as an eleventh hour rival to the management buy-out involving former Honda F1 CEO Nick Fry and team principal Ross Brawn were refused comment when contacted Virgin earlier in the week, but Honda sources have since revealed that the company is among those it is talking to in a bid to keep the team on the grid in 2009.

Appearing on the BBC's breakfast news programme, Branson evaded the obvious question about his brand's potential involvement in the top flight, insisting that he could not comment whatever the situation.

He did, however, concede that F1 would be a good platform for his business should changes be made to the way it operated.

"If there are discussions, I can't tell you," he maintained, "but if Bernie Ecclestone can make it more effective for the Virgin brand, and if motor racing can be made more 'green', which can be done with different fuels, then we might be interested in getting involved."

Speaking later on BBC Radio Four, however, Branson admitted that it would be 'fun' to be a part of the F1 world, but repeated his requirements and continued to be coy on whether he would actually try to finalise talks to take over the Honda concern.

"To be perfectly frank, even if we were about to take over Honda, I'm sure they would have a clause which would say that I'm not allowed to talk about it," Branson said, "I love Formula One, but I think there are faults there which would need to be rectified before we moved in.

"We'd need to be sure that Bernie Ecclestone is running it, that the teams can make ends meet and we'd need to be sure that he's on a path to turn Formula One in to a sport that is championing green technology. It's not very green at the moment.

"We wouldn't want to enter the sport unless it could be profitable for us. It's obviously very well viewed in places like India and China and the Far East, South America, quite a lot of European countries and so, with the Virgin brand expanding on a global basis, it's certainly something that is attractive.

"[But] those two provisos would be essential before Virgin entered the sport."

Ecclestone has also been quoted as saying that, following talks with Branson's representatives, he feels the entrepreneur would be keen to take over the Honda entry - and would be good for the sport.

"I'm delighted he said it," Branson said of the praise, "It would be great fun and, subject to those two provisos, maybe something might be able to get sorted out. Virgin often does things that other people don't do."

Employees at Honda's Brackley base have continued to work on a car to meet the 2009 regulations, but time is running out, not only on their contracts, but also on deadlines to secure an engine supply. Mercedes is the frontrunner to provide powerplants for the coming season, but have apparently given those trying to find a buyer for the team a matter of weeks to settle the issue.

"If there are talks somebody is going to have to move very quick," he concluded, still not being drawn on his own involvement in negotiations, "There's tremendous engineers involved and it is essential that teams are not lost. I very much hope that the Honda team survives and thrives and moves up the rankings quickly under a new brand."



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