Virgin Racing’s ultimate boss Sir Richard Branson dropped in to Barcelona today to see his new F1 car testing and to deliver some well chosen words in response to Ferrari’s attack earlier this week on the new teams.
The now infamous attack by the “Horse Whisperer” on the Ferrari website this week laid into the new teams and claimed that Virgin and Lotus, the two new teams which have been out testing are “limping” into the season.
Branson clearly felt that this was not something he could allow to go without a response. Always one with an eye for a media opportunity he made the trip to Spain. Speaking to the press this morning he said,
“Formula 1 needs new teams. Ferrari already won the battle to make sure that new teams are shackled. I think it was a pity that they were resistant to the budget cap and I think it is foolish actually.
“We have built a new car from scratch and are going to have exactly the same practice time as Brawn, Ferrari or any of the other teams who have had years and years and years to get it right. But we’re not complaining about it – we’re happy to go along with it.
“I think the one thing the Virgin team will prove is that you can have a really good racing team, running very fast, within a very tight budget.
“Ultimately I think that new teams will give Ferrari a run for their money,”
The last point is a little hard to imagine for the foreseeable future, as Virgin look several seconds off the pace of Ferrari, but he is right in his view that Ferrari was the team most against the £40 million budget cap, which former FIA president Max Mosley tried to introduce last summer and which almost split the sport in half.
Ferrari’s point is that Mosley caused so much pain and damage to the sport and to the manufacturer teams in particular, merely to introduce a lowest common denominator formula, bringing in a bunch of teams with no racing heritage, scant resources and in some cases, little hope. This view doesn’t seem to have played too well with the fans, judging from the comments on this site this week.
Ever the populist, Branson senses another opportunity to be David and challenge Goliath. He goes too far when he says that Virgin will challenge Ferrari soon, but then Ferrari went too far when they said that Virgin was limping. As both are members of FOTA it has made for some strained relations within that organisation, as you can imagine.
The reality now is that for Branson and the other new team owners, the deal they have got is different from what they expected or were promised in the sense that the budgets of the top teams are still higher than they can afford. But the Resource Restriction Agreement will level things up over the next couple of seasons, with all teams needing to get the headcount below 300 by the end of 2011. The RRA gives the big teams a glidepath down to a much lower budget, whereas the budget cap was too much of a cut too quickly.
“I think it will make the sport more exciting, particularly as budgets come down to more realistic levels,” said Branson.
* An analysis of Saturday’s testing will appear on Sunday morning on the site.