I suggested on Monday that Virgin might be the ones negotiating with Honda and I see now that Honda has confirmed it. Already there have been some good jokes, like “I hope they are faster than their broadband!” But there is no doubt that Virgin would be a huge asset to F1 if it happened.
The backstory here appears to involve Adrian Reynard, who knows Sir Richard Branson well, apparently and who set the BAR Honda team up in the first place before being eased out of the picture. Like David Richards, who also ran the team, he has some scores to settle and some unfinished business there. Isn’t it amazing how powerful men cannot let something lie? It’s like an episode of Dallas.
Anyway, I imagine that Virgin would only be interested if the costs really do come down to £50 million per year, as the FIA has been suggesting lately. They will have done extensive research on the return on investment you get from F1, the media value of screen time etc and would calculate that if the costs of competing were at that kind of level, you are looking at around £10 million as the cost of your sponsorship. This is probably affordable for them and they would get ten times that value back in brand exposure, so it’s a no-brainer if they plan some global initiative like a bio-fuel or some airline related activity or something. The catch is that the rules for 2010 haven’t been done yet and there is no guarantee that the costs will come down to that level.
I said in my Hope for Honda post, a couple of weeks ago that the £50 million package could some soon enough to save the team, but look at the teams which have gone down waiting in vain for F1 to become affordable, like Super Aguri for example. It may not happen.
I was phoned by TalkSport radio today asking me to talk about Danica Patrick and the possibility of her racing for the proposed USF1 team. It’s certainly a story everyone wants to know about. A woman driver would be great for F1 if she were good enough and Danica has won in IRL, beating Dan Wheldon, who was a contemporary of Jenson Button and others. Of course if Danica was good enough she would probably have been in F1 already, but why shouldn’t she get a second chance? Honda was looking seriously at testing her a few years back, I remember talking to Nick Fry about it. But it didn’t come off.
I know my old mentor Murray Walker has always been dismissive of the idea of women drivers in F1, but I’m all for it – it’s the last great barrier to be broken down. I don’t think Danica would be the first woman to win an F1 race, nor even to get a podium, but she might well open the door for other women who could break down that barrier.
USF1 is another idea which depends on the £50 million budget being possible and competitive. It is unlikely to happen without it. This is a start up, as far as I can see it, not based on an existing team and therefore not eligible for the TV money to start with. It will take pretty huge investment to get started.
The man behind it, my journalistic colleague Peter Windsor, has made a few comments on the story lately and there will be an announcement next week. The problem is that F1 has moved away from the US in the last few years, rather than the other way around. We don’t even have a race in Canada, for goodness sake!