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Sitting down with Sir Richard
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Sitting down with Sir Richard
Posted By:   |  28 Mar 2009   |  5:58 am GMT  |  0 comments

A dozen or so of the British media’s finest representatives sat down with Sir Richard Branson this afternoon to get some more detail.

He’s a very tall man, slightly stooped, very pale looking. We sat in the Brawn hospitality area and, having looked in vain through all his pockets for his ‘cheat sheet’ notes Branson decided to just go for it and think on his feet.

As always with journalists there was a faint whiff of scepticism about this sponsorship deal with Brawn, the suggestion being that money has yet to change hands. This feeling was reinforced when Nick Fry was brought in by Branson to help him out on how much detail he should give and Nick said as an aside that he was still waiting for a cheque.

Branson said, “Until they get the cheque they don’t want me to go too far.”

The deal is a toe in the water job to start, thrown together at short notice with and it depends on how the discussions go in the next few weeks as to whether the relationship goes deeper. I asked him if he planned to buy an equity stake and get a seat on the board and he said that he needed to keep something to say to us in a few weeks time.

Here’s the rest of the conversation.

brans

How long have you seriously looked at F1?

“I’ve enjoyed it for years and in past got tempted but it’s been such an expensive sport. But the recession has been bringing the cost of entry down to a more reasonable level and the new rules that are coming out to encourage new teams to come in for more sensible amounts of money will make it a more exciting sport. When the Honda team got into trouble and it looked like a possibility of it disappearing altogether we spoke with Honda. I think we’ve ended up with the best of all worlds with a fantastic engineer and a great brand like Virgin. It’s something which could develop into something exciting in the years to come.”

“I’ve been fortunate I’ve done ballooning and boating and it hasn’t cost any money, I’ve always got someone else to sponsor them. I like to make everything pay its way. The idea of writing a cheque for tens of millions is something we haven’t done in the past. But at the right value it makes sense. We’ve come in with an underdog team that needed financial help at a time that they have an engineer with a fantastic track record and a shot at doing well.”

“We’ve throw something together in quite a quick period of time and all of us would like to see it develop into a more complete relationship, maybe over the next three or four years.”

Could you have the naming rights for the team?
“It’s a possibility, we’ll see what happens over the next three or four weeks. The team don’t want to waste the name of the team on something that is not promoting anything. Everyone knows that it has a great engineer, the team doesn’t need to be named after an engineer and that may well change. If it happened we’d be committed for a long time.”

What do you need to make that commitment.?
“We all need more time. We are a Virgin bride and someone else may come in and offer something even better before this bride marries them. But I’m sure we will get something together.

‘We announced that we would put all the profits from our dirty businesses into developing a clean fuel. We have that fuel now and one great way of proving to the world that there is a clean fuel that works and which can be used in ordinary cars and aeroplanes is for it to be used in F1. I’ve just met the head of Mercedes to start the talks about seeing if it can be tested in F1 cars and used as soon as possible.

 

“Every industry has to move towards clean fuels. F1 has to be the leader in clean fuels, F1 have said they are committed to it. I know that the people at the top of F1 are very keen to move towards a sport that they can be proud of and one of those aspects is running on clean fuels as long as it doesn’t detract from the excitement of the sport. We believe our fuel will be even faster than the current fuels.

“This is the first stage of a deal which is meant to be two stages and we will see what happens over the next few weeks.”

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  1. Colin says:

    “…and Nick said as an aside that he was still waiting for a cheque.”

    *Chuckle*

    But judging by “Stir Fry’s” body language in your snapshot he wasn’t joking with Sir Richard.

    Who are the other suitors James?

    “We announced that we would put all the profits from our dirty businesses into developing a clean fuel.”

    Mafia connections? Surely not?

  2. rpaco says:

    I may have a different view to most on this subject. Richard Branson is a great bloke etc but as far as I can see, is just getting free publicity ATM.

    No money changed hands, no commitment to spend any, in fact he openly said all his projects have not cost him anything, but he has got his Wordmark up all over the Brawn Garage and is talking about changing the team name. He has also admitted that he wants to be a fuel supplier for F1.

    All in all its a win win for Branson and a no gain for Brawn.

    If I were Ross I would want a huge check up in front and send him away and wait until a proper sponsor came along prepared to invest and not just be looking for a sales outlet (or at very least, free promotion) for a new product. Sponsors are expected to cough up in order to get the brand or product exposure. What with Bernie still owing money too, it must rankle that someone else is being slippery too.

    Next year the regs say that there must be a small (around 5.7) percentage of bio content in the fuel. That won’t make much difference to the planet. But admittedly the amount you can use is limited by the engine design.

    As a user of WVO myself to run my Xantia I know that bio fuel can be disastrous for the farming communities in some areas. Seriously affecting food production crops and laying waste to rain forest with palm oil plantations. So he had better be careful.

  3. VonSpeeX says:

    Great writng as allways James!Was a shame u wasn’t on ‘the mic’Definitely felt different,But great job overall from the BBC….Loving Sir Richards lady friends….Great job robert!!

  4. john g says:

    haha we’ll see just how well brawn get on with their clean fuel. which will meet the same regulations as all the other fuels being used and therefore can be barely any ‘greener’ than anyone elses. also, it’s not quite as simple as putting a green fuel in a car and smiling. he’ll need to be talked to that by ross i think.

  5. Andrew McKendry says:

    I’m worried Sir Branson will try and come in and “change the world” – he seems that type of guy. Brawn is working beautifully right now so the last thing I want for them is an extra chef in the kitchen right now, unless he can bring pristine ingredients.

    I’m also a bit dubious about this “clean fuel” he keeps going on about. I wish he’d explain it more as it sounds like greenwash to me.

  6. Finn says:

    Any chance you could pop down to the BBC OB team and give Legard some tips?

  7. Kevin M says:

    I think this is actually a good relationship for Brawn GP. Ross seems like a pretty quiet guy who isn’t terribly keen on the spotlight. Branson is a showman though. So Brawn can focus on running his team and winning races, while Branson uses F1 as a platform to add to the Virgin brand. As for the team name, who knows? The team colours have grown on me though and I can’t imagine Branson keeping them.

  8. Spencer Tracy says:

    A thought – perhaps Honda should sponsor the team too – swallow their pride, bung Ross a few mill back and stick their name on the rear wing. We all know they bankrolled it, and merc engine or no merc engine why not get some payback.

  9. Shane says:

    ‘We announced that we would put all the profits from our dirty businesses into developing a clean fuel. We have that fuel now and one great way of proving to the world that there is a clean fuel that works and which can be used in ordinary cars and aeroplanes is for it to be used in F1. I’ve just met the head of Mercedes to start the talks about seeing if it can be tested in F1 cars and used as soon as possible.”

    Anyone else a bit sceptical of this, where the Virgin group have succeeded where the likes of Shell and ExxonMobil have failed? I wonder how clean is clean!

  10. john g says:

    rpaco: F1 fuel already contains minimum 5.75% bio-sourced component. however, as the FIA can only determine if ethanol or ETBE (ethanol derivative) are bio sourced, then you can only use these two ‘green’ components. both contain oxygen, and the rules limit oxygen in the fuel to 3.7% by mass. so using either component, there is actually a fairly small window between the minimum and maximum amount of bio content permissible.

    also, you are entirely correct about the sources of current bio fuels. the food vs fuel debate, the horrendous inefficiency of the process, the fact that current methods produce more CO2 than they save. it’s a political bandwagon, nothing else, and to try an introduce such an immature technology on a wide scale is disastrous. but the politicians think it makes them popular so on we go…

    maybe by clean, he doesn’t mean green, rather that he just puts a lot of detergent in it?

  11. guy says:

    Legard was awful – his style reminded me of football commentators who cover other sports during the summer break – like tony gubba doing ice skating or barry davies covering tennis etc. Same sort of standard as a PE teacher teaching you maths in his traksuit, if you get my drift.

    Can’t see brundle putting up with it for long (remember when you could tell how he was getting cross with murray for all his mistakes!).

    Lets start a petition for JA to get back in the box with brundle – can anyone think of a catchy title for our cause?

    [ Easy does it. I am sure JA appreciates the kudos, but it would be a shame to use this space to dump on folks from the new BBC team. Their site is surely the better place for your feedback about their coverage. - Moderator ]

  12. Colin says:

    “…it must rankle that someone else is being slippery too.”

    A tad harsh Sir!

    It’s clearly being done on the fly, and the contract details will have to be worked through. My guess is they have just shaken hands on a sum, and signed an MOU so far. The cheque amount would change as the details are modified. Early days.

    He’s a bit toothy, and self-promoting, but I’ve not seen him described as slippery. He still has the original people around him with whom he began his empire in his schooldays.

    You’ve got to admire a man like him, who’s been so successful despite being dyslexic.

    If he doesn’t cough up the cash it would scar his reputation, so I think he’ll be straight up.

  13. Sinker says:

    F1 fuel, as well as fuel we all buy at the pump, already has around 5% Bio-Fuel in it. Been there for years only nobody has advertised the fact. So the government and F1 and any one else suddenly saying ‘we’re using greener fuel’ is just spouting smoke and mirrors!

    Seriously though, growing crops specifically to make bio-fuel is a real cause for concern. The mind boggles when you realise that nearly all waste veg oil is dumped in land-fills instead of being used to make green fuel! I use 100% commercially refined bio-fuel, made from said WVO, in my Land Rover. Keeps my engine clean, is cheaper, same MPG, but makes me hungry (smells of chips!).

    Back to F1; if Mercedes say this ‘green fuel’ can be used in their engine and the FIA give it the go ahead then I can well imagine the Brawn team using it as part of the sponsorship deal with Virgin. I can also well imagine the fuel is quicker and will aid engine longevity. Assuming it doesn’t hinder (and I hope the team would reject it if it did) then, well, why not? I just hope the ‘green’ credentials cover it’s production and not just it’s emissions.

  14. Colin says:

    You know, this stunning 1-2 today must really hurt the Honda people.

    I think it would be a nice gesture if the Brawn carried the Honda logo throughout this season… gratis.

    They surely deserve it, and it would bring terrific goodwill to the Brawn Team.

    In passing: Cringingly embarrassing for McLaren’s Mr. Haug, perhaps he will quietly slip into the Brawn Team, and McLaren will become a customer car?

  15. Martin P says:

    Somehow I doubt Mercedes would like that very much…..

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