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Sir Richard Branson's formula for success

Timo Glock, Richard Branson and Lucas di Grassi
Richard Branson (centre) aims for long-term success with his Virgin Racing team

By Sarah Holt

Sir Richard Branson launched his Virgin brand into Formula 1 in March courtesy of a sponsor's sticker on Brawn's car - nine months on he has his own race team.

Brawn went on to win both the constructors' and drivers' titles but the tycoon's deal with the new Manor team, rebranded Virgin Racing, is not expected to reap such lofty rewards.

"We were completely spoiled last year," Branson, who calculated a £2.4 m investment in Brawn was worth £61m in television exposure alone, told BBC Sport.

"There was a temptation to write out a big cheque to Brawn and continue but when a team has won you can't do any better and so we found a new one."

A continuing relationship with Brawn became less viable for Virgin following the team's buy-out by Mercedes.

But striking a deal with one of the four new teams on the 2010 grid allows Virgin, who have parachuted former director of special projects Alex Tai in as team principal, to hone the team in its image.

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At the team's high-energy London launch, the Virgin philosophy was trumpeted as fun, innovative - and value for money.

Tai claims to have already brought 10 sponsors who have never invested in F1 before to the team, but billionaire Branson is not throwing money at the team. Tai described that as a "dumb approach to racing".

Virgin Racing will operate within a £40m budget - around £100m less than Brawn, who were funded by former owner Honda, spent in their championship-winning season.

Branson is realistic about which end of the grid his Virgin logo is likely to line-up in 2010.

"We're not expecting the same good fortune," he said.

"The team is at a major disadvantage as the other teams can spend £400m if they want to but it's such a waste of money to spend that on two cars."

When Manor applied to join an expanded grid in 2010, they signed up under the assumption that a £40m budget cap, proposed by governing body the FIA, would be enforced.

However, after a summer of dispute between the FIA and F1 teams' association (Fota), the cap was abandoned and instead the teams pledged to reduce resources to mid-1990s levels by 2011.

As long as we continue to develop I'll be happy. The question is, where is our starting point in 2010

Virgin Racing driver Timo Glock

But the U-turn has come too late for Virgin Racing.

"We couldn't change tack," Manor Motorsport boss and now Virgin racing director, John Booth, said.

"We couldn't say we now need £200m; it's not achievable. We took the decision to operate with £40m and that's our aim."

Virgin's technical director Nick Wirth added: "I'm really sad there's not a budget restriction. It's a major mistake.

"We signed up to something that said 45m euros (£40.1m) and that limits our ability to perform well in the first few years."

Such resource limitations means Wirth, a former Benetton F1 designer, is honing the design of the team's first race car without using a wind tunnel, a key tool in shaping a car's aerodynamics for the last 30 years.

Instead Wirth is relying solely on digital design using computational fluid dynamics (CFD).

When Lola designed their car without a wind tunnel in 1997, the team lasted for just one race and the car was 11 seconds off the pace.

But Wirth is confident he will not run into the same problems.

"CFD is absolutely critical (to our cost-cutting); it's cheaper and faster," said Wirth, who has used CFD to design race-winning cars in the American Le Mans Series for sportscars.

Gil de Ferran driving the Wirth-designed Acura
Wirth designed a title-winning car for Acura in the American Le Mans Series

"Is it a risk? No. But where we are on the grid is down to me."

Virgin are unlikely to find out if Wirth's gamble has paid off until they test themselves against the other teams.

Until then, they are hoping that experience, rather than expense, will help them compete against 2010 favourites McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes.

After a successful career in junior categories, Manor come armed with an experienced group of engineers and racing brains.

Lead driver Timo Glock brings two years' F1 know-how while his team-mate, former Renault reserve Lucas di Grassi, is expected to ably handle his rookie season.

"I'm used to a team of 600-700 people and Toyota had one of the biggest budgets," said Glock, 27. "But I still couldn't win a race.

"Now, I'm at a team with a low budget and 120 people. We're not going to win a race in our first year but with the right people and no politics in the team you can still be successful.

"As long as we continue to develop I'll be happy. The question is, where is our starting point in 2010?"

If Virgin Racing are preparing themselves for a difficult start in 2010, the team are more optimistic about the future.

Under a new contract with the FIA, the teams have pledged to restrict resources and operate with a workforce limited to 260 members by 2012.

By starting small, Manor hope to be one step ahead of the established teams who face a painful paring down of staff and budgets.

"We'll be the one team running at the right levels from day one," enthused Branson.

"We'll show it can be done."



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see also
Di Grassi joins new Virgin team
15 Dec 09 |  Formula 1
Glock to lead new Manor F1 team
17 Nov 09 |  Formula 1
Mercedes takes over Brawn F1 team
16 Nov 09 |  Formula 1
Gut instinct made Glock join Virgin
15 Dec 09 |  Formula 1
FIA budget 'bottling' saddens Branson
15 Dec 09 |  Formula 1
Virgin to sponsor Brawn F1 team
28 Mar 09 |  Formula 1


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