Sir Richard Branson is a Timing Expert! He launched his Virgin Atlantic Airways 25 years ago when longhaul travel was growing up, launched Virgin Blue as the first low-cost carrier in Australia, founded (and by now sold) the Belgian low-cost carrier Virgin Express, and has entered the American low-cost market with Virgin America (maybe that seems to be a bit late, but with the credit crunch even more people may turn to low-cost travel..) and has created Virgin Nigeria to serve the most populated African country. He used perfect timing when building the Virgin Megastore chain while CD’s were best-selling items and sold it when digital downloads started catching up. He has also been the first person to actually establish the world’s first “spacelines” (or “spaceways”?): Virgin Galactic. During all these years he has many times been courted by a number of Formula-1 teams to close a sponsorship deal, but he has always refused. Up until 2009, when he felt that the time has come. It was worth it, and of course perfect timing - the cars carrying the Virgin logo took a 1-2 victory in the first race!!
We all know the story that Honda shockingly withdrew from Formula-1 late last year and the Brackley-based team had a very rough and tough winter – with a lot of speculation about the future of the team. Finally it seemed that the potential buyers were down to only two options: Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin group and Mr. Ross Brawn, the technical director. In the end Brawn bought the team for one Euro and seemed that Virgin will still remain outside of F-1.
Following the pre-season tests, Brawn GP seemed quite strong and Sir Richard Branson used his timing-skills and announced a partnership just one day before the first race of the season. It was a quickly brought together deal in the eleventh hour, the official announcement coming just before the first qualifying session of the year. A downside to this quick deal is that the car has not (yet) received a new livery, and the team and driver overalls saw no Virgin branding at all (missing an opportunity to show Virgin at the top of the podium…), but I’m also sure that Sir Richard made a good deal in the middle of the economic recession. He must have gotten either more coverage for the same money, or is paying less for the same coverage – than would have done last year. So the famous Virgin logo – used by a number of airlines around the world – were quickly added to the cockpit area of the Brawn-Mercedes challengers and will probably be in the news around the world in the coming days – as Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello took an already legendary 1-2 finish in the first race ever of the Brawn GP team.
The official sponsorship announcement included hints that the addition of the red Virgin logo to the cockpit area is only the first step. Besides the technical partners’ logos, this was the only brand on the white livery of the cars – but a brand new, Virgin livery is expected before the following Malaysian grand priy, which is the “home” grand-prix for the Williams sponsor, Air Asia. Last year Air Asia prepared a special airplane livery for the Malaysian grandprix, we are looking forward to any similar announcements this year. We also wonder if Virgin will use a steady livery throughout the year, or will they start showing different brands of the Virgin Empire at different races – which would mean that some of the Virgin branded airlines’ logos could appear on the cars at some point of the season? I hope at least Virgin Atlantic will join a number of other airlines currently sponsoring Formula-1 teams: Air Asia (WilliamsF1), Etihad (Scuderia Ferrari), Kingfisher (Force India) and will also mark the sponsorship deal with some special airplane liveries across its fleet?
Let’s hope to see at least one of the Virgin branded Airlines’ logos on the Brawn GP (to be renamed Virgin Formula-1?) cars in 2009 and beyond as well as more special, Formula-1 themed aircraft liveries at Virgin!