Q & A with Richard Branson

Twelve months ago, Richard Branson flew out to Melbourne knowing little about Formula 1 other than he was about to become a sponsor for the Brawn GP team

Q & A with Richard Branson

A year on, having seen his Virgin logos adorn the side of the championship-winning outfit, he is now a team owner and certainly much wiser about the state of grand prix racing.

During a visit to Bahrain last weekend, Branson talked to the media about the progress of his Virgin Racing team, his hopes for the next few years and why he still thinks Ferrari was wrong to criticise the new teams. AUTOSPORT heard what he had to say.

Q. You obviously experienced very different feelings at the first race 12 months ago when you came in with Brawn GP and won the first race. Was there a different feeling in Bahrain seeing your own car on track?

Richard Branson: Yes. It is obviously different, but just as exciting. The challenge that the team set itself was to be number one of the new teams, with a budget that is almost half of the other new teams and a fraction of the price of the big teams. In qualifying, they pulled that off. Considering they have had a few months to get this far, they have done tremendously well. Now they are a proper racing team, which is tremendously exciting.

Q. Is Virgin Racing where you want it to be at this stage?

RB: Yes. I think it is a very, very respectable start. Bahrain was a long track and they were not far off teams that have been around for years. We are talking about 1.5 seconds on a big long track - so I think it is a tremendous start. I am very proud of everybody, and they have worked enormously hard. It is tremendous.

Q. Are you a patient man, because this will be a slow burning project in terms of progress?

RB: Yes. The baby was born in Bahrain, and babies have to develop into children and then adults. We hope it is going to be a quicker process than that. What has been shown is that you can design a car on a fraction of the price that everyone else is paying and have a very respectable start.

Q. There is a big contrast to last year though, isn't there?

RB: We went into this with our eyes completely open. To me it is far more exciting building a team from scratch, than sponsoring a team that had been around for many years. We want to start eating our way up the group. Look at Red Bull Racing, and how they got themselves ahead of Ferrari. Hopefully one day Virgin can overtake Red Bull, but you have got to start somewhere.

Q. You mentioned Red Bull Racing as a benchmark, but this year is their sixth. Doesn't that show how long the process can be?

RB: It was a five or six year process, but if the rules are stuck to, and everybody comes within the £40 million budget that we are working to this year, then in a couple of years time we will know how to run a team with that money, while other teams will have to come down to that level. So then things will start equalling out. Yes, they will have quite a few more years under their belt but we have quite a few guys here with a lot of experience. So, we are hoping for three to five years, rather than five years. But, who is to know? We have to aim for it.

Q. How many races do you plan to attend this year?

RB: I think similar to last year, which was four or five races.

Q. Do you have much say in what is happening at the team? Do you participate much?

RB: I am definitely kept well clear of the engineering and the driving!

Q. In the build-up to the season, there were lots of criticisms aimed at the new teams - that they shouldn't be here and would be limping into the first race. After what we saw on track in Bahrain, do you think those critics have been silenced?

RB: Yes. When Enzo Ferrari started Ferrari, he had to battle to get into the racing - he spent two years trying to get his foot in the door. He struggled like any new boy on the block. So everybody has to start somewhere. I don't think there is any new team that has come in and won on their debut - remember Brawn was Honda with a couple of hundred million dollars! I think Ferrari was mistaken in being as critical as they were.

Q. You seem much more knowledgeable about F1 that you did a year ago?

RB: I was certainly a new boy on the block. The only thing I knew about it was that four days before [Australia 2009] I knew we were going to be involved in F1!

shares
comments
Virgin targeting early success
Previous article

Virgin targeting early success

Next article

Renault to keep aggressive development

Renault to keep aggressive development
Load comments
How the Jeddah F1 race became a one-sitting Netflix drama series Plus

How the Jeddah F1 race became a one-sitting Netflix drama series

The inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was a race packed full of incident as Formula 1 2021's title contenders repeatedly clashed on track. Lewis Hamilton won out over Max Verstappen to level the scores heading into next weekend's Abu Dhabi finale, as Jeddah turned F1 into a drama series

The impressive attitude that earned Albon his second F1 chance Plus

The impressive attitude that earned Albon his second F1 chance

Dropped by Red Bull last season, Alexander Albon has fought back into a Formula 1 seat with Williams. ALEX KALINAUCKAS explains what Albon has done to earn the place soon to be vacated by the highly rated George Russell

Formula 1
Dec 5, 2021
How Formula E factors could negate Red Bull's Jeddah practice gap to Mercedes Plus

How Formula E factors could negate Red Bull's Jeddah practice gap to Mercedes

Mercedes led the way in practice for Formula 1’s first race in Jeddah, where Red Bull was off the pace on both single-lap and long runs. But, if Max Verstappen can reverse the results on Saturday, factors familiar in motorsport’s main electric single-seater category could be decisive in another close battle with Lewis Hamilton

Formula 1
Dec 3, 2021
Why Norris doesn’t expect Mr Nice Guy praise for much longer Plus

Why Norris doesn’t expect Mr Nice Guy praise for much longer

Earning praise from rivals has been a welcome sign that Lando Norris is becoming established among Formula 1's elite. But the McLaren driver is confident that his team's upward curve can put him in the mix to contend for titles in the future, when he's hoping the compliments will be replaced by being deemed an equal adversary

Formula 1
Dec 2, 2021
What Ferrari still needs to improve to return to F1 title contention Plus

What Ferrari still needs to improve to return to F1 title contention

After a disastrous 2020 in which it slumped to sixth in the F1 constructors' standings, Ferrari has rebounded strongly and is on course to finish third - despite regulations that forced it to carryover much of its forgettable SF1000 machine. Yet while it can be pleased with its improvement, there are still steps it must make if 2022 is to yield a return to winning ways

Formula 1
Dec 2, 2021
How F1 teams and personnel react in pressurised situations Plus

How F1 teams and personnel react in pressurised situations

OPINION: The pressure is firmly on Red Bull and Mercedes as Formula 1 2021 embarks on its final double-header. How the respective teams deal with that will be a crucial factor in deciding the outcome of the drivers' and constructors' championships, as Autosport's technical consultant and ex-McLaren F1 engineer explains

Formula 1
Dec 1, 2021
Why Ferrari is sure its long-term Leclerc investment will be vindicated Plus

Why Ferrari is sure its long-term Leclerc investment will be vindicated

Humble yet blisteringly quick, Charles Leclerc is the driver Ferrari sees as its next
 world champion, and a rightful heir to the greats of Ferrari’s past – even though, by the team’s own admission, he’s not the finished article yet. Here's why it is confident that the 24-year-old can be the man to end a drought stretching back to 2008

Formula 1
Nov 30, 2021
The downside to F1's show and tell proposal Plus

The downside to F1's show and tell proposal

Technology lies at the heart of the F1 story and it fascinates fans, which is why the commercial rights holder plans to compel teams to show more of their ‘secrets’. STUART CODLING fears this will encourage techno-quackery…

Formula 1
Nov 29, 2021