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Why Virgin is getting into bed with Brawn
Why Virgin is getting into bed with Brawn
Posted By:   |  26 Mar 2009   |  8:53 pm GMT  |  27 comments

There’s a strong story doing the rounds here in Melbourne that Richard Branson’ s Virgin group is going to announce a sponsorship deal with Brawn GP tomorrow (Friday). Branson himself is believed to be on his way out here to make the announcement.

It is well known that Virgin looked seriously at buying the team from Honda over the winter, but pulled out because, among other reasons, it felt the sport’s environmental credentials were not as strong as they need them to be.

I imagine also that they were put off by the uncertainty about the performance of the car and the cost control rules for this year and beyond. The picture has become a good deal clearer now and in some ways you could say that they probably realise that they might have missed a trick. The car is the fastest in the field and the era of the budget cap will soon be upon us. Brawn GP is a fantastic asset. As a business model it is starting to make a lot of sense for a company like Virgin, which would get a massive return on investment.

Ross Brawn is sitting on an asset which will be worth tens, possibly hundreds of millions of pounds in a few years time. The move to a budget cap and the stunning performance of the Brawn car are two reasons for Virgin to reconsider involvement in Brawn. Ross needs strong partners for the future, to consolidate the team and then take it forward as an established top team. Virgin may in time become more than a sponsor. It makes little sense in branding terms for the cars to be called Brawns. They are not using F1 to try to build a brand, like Mercedes or Renault or Red Bull. They might as well work with a partner with a strong brand.

And now clear, for the moment, of the regulatory hurdle of the diffuser row, the way is clear for a very opportunistic piece of sponsorship business.

The Brawn cars will totally dominate this weekend and the next few as well, until the others can catch up. Brawn has some development parts in the pipeline, which could keep their noses in front for the first half of the season, For a sponsor it is a golden opportunity, of the kind which does not come along too often. And Branson is nothing if not an opportunist.

Brawn will be the story here, looking at grabbing the front row and sealing a one-two finish in the race, provided they are reliable. And that means the chance for Virgin to get saturation coverage.

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Stephen Russell

Interesting development, I was wondering if we were going to see any sponsors appear on the Brawn. James do you really think they are as far clear of the field as testing has suggested? or do you think the car was trimmed of ballest to allow for spectacular times, and the big buzz in order to gain sponsorship?

I was also wondering what you think will happen with the appeal on the diffuser issue. If it is rejected then the race will really be on by the rest to incorporate their cars with the same design. Do you think they have been secretly working on this? Could Ferrari unveil the same sort of design by the Chinese GP?


As I head home for the weekend I can hardly contain the excitement. But I am really nervous. All this talk about Brawn being the car to beat and that they'll have a one two in Oz is starting to do me in! They haven't hit the track yet! I am a massive Jenson fan so you can imagine how I am feeling after the career he has had so far. If indeed in practice they are way ahead of everyone else then maybe I can start to relax and enjoy all the talk. I just hope it all doesn't come to nothing on Sunday morning (afternoon).

Thanks James for all your updates on here and on twitter. No offense to the BBC site , but their 'blog' is hopeless and reads like someone who doesn't know F1 at all! Which I guess in Humphrey's case is true.

This is the first place I come to before going on to ITV, BBC and Formula1.com

Looking forward to your podcasts almost as much as Brawn's debut, now that is saying something.


James, I am astounded that you are so confident that BGP will easily dominate the next few races. Surely you have been in the game long enough to realise that until the chequered flag has fallen, you don't count your chickens before they are hatched!

I want BGP to do well, but I fear Button will not be able to step up to the plate, or get beaten comprehensively by Rubens again, which would be bad news for me, an Englishman.


Thanks James for all of your posts to keep us fans updated of events at Melbourne. I am so excited about BRAWN GP and hoping for a 1-2 on the grid and in the race. Really do not mind which driver, Jenson or Rubens for a win - they have had such a rough time in the last two years so hopefully they get the car they deserve.


I'm surprised by just how convinced you are by the Brawns, James. While I don't dispute that the signs are good, are they really truly that far ahead?

I can't help thinking that the other teams will give them more of a run for their money. I'd love to be surprised though, although I think one completely dominant team, even if it is the Brawn team would get tedious after a few races.

I'm looking forward to seeing how Alonso does: I thought he was superb last year and I'd love to see him doing some more giant-killing.


Morning James, great website, like many others one of the first places I go to, when I need to get an F1 fix.

I think it will be interesting to see the first practice as this will be the litmus test for the cars. Like many long time fans, predictions are nice, but when the cars hit the track in anger that is when we will see who is fast and who is not.

Its great to have a person like yourself that is at the track and can give there view of the race, not just the facts and figures like many other websites.

Do you think the two Brawn cars are really that fast and can dominate the race when teams like Ferrari and Mclaren (I hope they improve, I really do) are on the horizon? I get the feeling there will be a surpise in the making.


I would not be surprised to see Branson sponsor the team now that their performance seems to be genuine. He will no doubt get a very good return on his investment.

This is a similar situation to him getting involved n the space business. He had no visible involvement whatever until it was clear Burt Rutan's team were going to win the X Prize. As soon as the X-Prize was a certainty Space Ship One had a Vigin sticker on the nose and all the publicity was about Virgin Galactic.

Branson will see a similar bang per buck opportunity with Brawn.

I would also love to know why Button has changed his helmet colours. I can't imagine Branson is behind that so presumably another major sponsor is going to be revealed.


After spending half my day at the autograph tent yesterday, I can assure you all that every team is at least worried about the Brawn cars. It's the first car they mention when talking about the win in Melbourne. It was also great to see Rubens again. Last year him and Jenson looked like they weren't very enthusiastic about racing in Melbourne. This year Rubens was very cheerful and didn't have a care in the world. He even said he wasn't worried at all about the diffuser because he knew it was legal. Thankfully today we get to see the team in action. I wonder if the car will be carrying some extra branding this morning...


I'm getting worried about all this hype of Brawn being on the front row....I really want it to happen and for Button to win as I have had so much stick over the last two seasons since more people have been watching since Hamiliton came on the scene and I have stayed a loyal Button supporter.

I couldn't believe the news in December when Honda pulled out I was gutted.

But now with Ross it's great and I cant wait for the start of the season.

Anyway, time for some sleep going to get up to see the second practice...Thank you BBC 🙂


I'm with Clackers-much as i 'd like to see Brawn do well i cant see them dominating like you say James.The same old faces, including Mclaren will be at the front!


Great for the team to have a sound financial backer such as virgin. Cool that it's British investment in a British team as well.

The only thing i hope is that the Brawn car keeps its minimal green white and black livery, it looks great.

Like the look of JBs new helmet as well. Can't wait for this weekend.


I wouldn't want to put all my chickens in the basket as you have done here James!! Maybe that's the British pessimism in me, and the fact that I haven't had the access to testing that you have had... I can see that the Brawn boys were HUGELY fast at Barca and Jerez, but whether that will apply this weekend is still not certain. I hope it is the case and Jenson does a Hakkinen 98 on us here, and I admire your confidence when you are in the media and not some yokel rambling on at the back of the pub!!

Let's just see what happens...


"It makes little sense in branding terms for the cars to be called Brawns. They are not using F1 to try to build a brand, like Mercedes or Renault or Red Bull. They might as well work with a partner with a strong brand."

Excellent point James.

But Branson is still dithering. As you know, the cars won't be called Virgins under this deal.

When he fetches up, bleary eyed and grinning... Give him a nudge to take the plunge and "get married" first.

Then we look forward to even more delightfully kitsch headlines. (Which I'm sure you Journos have been rehearsing over breakfast.)


James this is awesome stuff. I LOVE your site, it is concise, precise and insightful.

Why do you think that the Brawn is so good. Surely they are carrying over from last years development? Its not often that a team is judged to be so far ahead and like the other contributors I wander if its just smoke and mirrors to get sponsorship.

I cant wait for the start.


God that's a terrible pun.

I find it quite amusing that Branson says he wont get involved in F1 because it's not green enough, then sponsors a team anyway.


"The Brawn cars will totally dominate this weekend and the next few as well, until the others can catch up."

Still the media, and you, James, seem to hype Brawn (I'm not denying they are fast, but they are *not* dominating). Williams, not Brawn, set the fastest time at Jerez. Ans Williams are the fastest in P1 at Melbourne.

The Brawn story makes great copy; but don't ignore the facts for too long and have to play catch-up later.


yes didn't branson cite some (hypocritical?) ecological reasons for not being in F1...? good to see how the opportunity to make some money changes things 🙂

looking at FP1, brawn were around where i expected, towards the top but just off. ferrari were also performing as normal. where did williams come from though!? very impressive although could have been playing games with fuel...


Let's hope the Virgin stickers don't have the same effect on the Brawn cars as they do on planes, trains and broadband modems!!!

I wonder how we'll be able to tell them apart from the Toyotas, unless they paint them pink!

Team Virgin Brawn GP Mercedes. Aren't you glad you're not commentating with that mouthful to contend with? not to mention no ad breaks to give your throat a rest! Heard the BBC Five Live commentators moaning about the green stripes being impossible to see in the twilight and not having any way of knowing who has KERS and who doesn't... I'd have thought they could have that all on a screen in front of them.


Come Sunday all will be revealed, we'll know the truth, at the moment anyone can do a FAST lap, but can they do it
for the whole race, That will sort the Men from the Boys, all
will be revealed if you just have a little patience, it may all
be different when they have to go into corners with a Ferrari or maclaren on their tail. personally I'd love to see
Ruben do well this year, as he won't have too many more chances at his age, and I believe he deserves a WDC for
the years of playing second fiddle to MS. and then having
to drive non competitive cars ever since .
(and this is from a LH fan.) who apreciates good sportsmanship.


Team Virgin Brawn GP Mercedes

It's Virgin on the ridiculous.

I thang you.


Yes Shaun I plan to do that in qualifying and particularly in the race when I will twitter my observations on how the race is unfolding, what is happening through the field etc. I'll post more on this.


Spot on James - this is the premier site for true, informed insight.

Any chance of a twitter feed similar to the feed provided alongside the race timings webpage? Hope to hear back commentating one way or another....


"The Mercedes engine is very strong."

You'd better believe it! Did you see Sutil in the Farce India eating up Kimi's Ferrari? Payback for Monaco???

Ferrari engines are not exactly setting the track alight, are they?


Friday is one thing, but wait and see in qualifying, Matthew.


Chicken in the basket - they used to serve that in pubs in the 1970s, didn't they.


Thanks. They are so far ahead because Ross is very smart. He found a very good team which had been badly led technically and gave them a strong technical lead. It's an easier turnaround than the one he had to do at Ferrari in the late 1990s. The aero is class leading, they've got lot more downforce than anyone else (ie they've lost less from the new rules than the others) and the Mercedes engine is very strong.


Ditto re james.

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