Melbourne: British entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has agreed a substantial sponsorship deal with the new Brawn GP team, both sides announced at the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.
Branson told a news conference at the Albert Park circuit that he had signed the deal only four hours before stepping on a plane for Australia and would use the Formula One team to promote a clean fuel revolution.
“Over the years Virgin has had the great honour of partnering with technical geniuses and I truly believe that (team owner) Ross Brawn is to F1 what Burt Ratan is to space travel with Virgin Galactic,” he added.
Brawn, who have taken over from departed Honda, will compete in Sunday’s season-opening race among the favourites and with Virgin branding on their white cars.
“Richard Branson is a hugely successful global businessman, and it’s therefore excellent news for Formula One that he and the Virgin Group have entered the sport,” said Dennis after the announcement that Virgin had agreed to back the new Mercedes-powered Brawn GP team.
“But their entry shouldn’t be seen as in some way bucking a trend,” he added in a statement at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
“Despite the global economic downturn, Formula One’s sponsorship situation remains remarkably robust,” said Dennis, whose team are 40% owned by Mercedes.
Renault are losing title sponsor ING at the end of the year while troubled bank RBS has already said it would quit when its current deal with Williams expires at the end of 2010.
Dennis said that was more to do with the troubles of those institutions than any greater problem within Formula One, comparing their departure to the Premier League exit of Manchester United sponsor AIG.
Dutch-based banking and insurance company ING, who are also the title sponsors of the Australian Grand Prix, have had to cut back after taking a €1 billion ($1.33 billion) loss in 2008.
Williams have also lost sponsorship from companies owned by Icelandic investment firm Baugur, which collapsed under the weight of its debt, while Lenovo have moved across to McLaren.
BMW-Sauber’s partnership with Swiss bank Credit Suisse has also ended.