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Virgin in bid for Honda team? UPDATE #6 Sir Richard Branson has revealed for the first time he "might be interested" in becoming involved in Formula One.

Sir Richard Branson
Initially trying to sidestep the issue, a smiling Branson told BBC News: "If we are in discussions then I wouldn't be allowed to say because there would be some kind of clause which would prohibit me talking about it."

But when pressed on the issue, he added: "I love grands prix.

"If Bernie Ecclestone can make it more cost-effective for the likes of the Virgin brand to come into the sport, and if he can champion clean motor-car racing, which is possible to do by making sure all the cars run on clean fuels, at some stage we might be interested in getting involved."

Branson, though, refused to be drawn on whether he was in talks with Honda, repeating: "If there were I wouldn't be allowed to tell you, so I can't clarify it I'm afraid."

He later added on BBC Radio 4's Today program: "I think that there are faults there that would need to be rectified before we moved into Formula One.

"(But) with the Virgin brand expanding on a global basis, it is certainly something that is attractive."

02/19/09 Bernie Ecclestone has given Sir Richard Branson's 11th hour Honda rescue mission the thumbs up. The most powerful figure in Formula One is ready to roll out the red carpet for the entrepreneur and his £7billion Virgin Group.

"We would welcome them with open arms," said Ecclestone. "He's exactly the type of person we would want in the sport. Sir Richard Branson is a wonderful guy. I met him at Monza last year and we got on very well."

Branson's offer could scupper a planned management buyout led by the Honda team's chief executive Nick Fry, principal Ross Brawn and three other senior Honda Racing executives. "I know about the management buyout," said Ecclestone. "But if Virgin are interested and people say they want the same management, then that's great too."

But the final decision on the Brackley outfit's future now rests with the Honda board in Tokyo.

They face a choice between Branson, his PR clout and financial muscle, and the management bid of Fry and Brawn, who wield extensive experience in the sport - but less capital. With battle lines drawn, a question mark hangs over how Brawn and Fry could work with the Virgin hierarchy if Branson is successful.

Mancunian Brawn designed the seven cars in which Michael Schumacher won world titles and has a £15million personal fortune.

The lure for him is not to win yet another championship but to become a latter-day Colin Chapman or Enzo Ferrari as designer-owner or shareholder of his own team.

Bruno Senna, nephew of race legend Ayrton Senna, is competing for the second seat with former Honda driver Takuma Sato.

Grand Prix racing would be the ultimate promotional vehicle for a man of Branson's ambitions. And the Honda team, with unparalleled investment by the car giant, represents the deal of the century. Five years ago the same operation might have commanded a £100m price tag. But following severe criticism at home in Japan for pulling out of F1, Honda are ready to sell the team for just £1 to any buyer who can safeguard the long-term future of the 700 staff. Mirror.co.uk

02/18/09 Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group have until the end of the month to save the beleaguered Honda Formula One team.  The entrepreneur is in talks with Japanese car manufacturers to rescue the career of British racer Jenson Button, but time is desperately short with the new season starting in Australia on March 29.

A Honda spokesman confirmed: 'We are negotiating with several buyers and one of those is the Virgin Group.'

But Honda want to have a deal in place in the next fortnight - or else they will go ahead with their plans to close their Northamptonshire factory with the loss of 700 jobs.  Honda are likely to help fund any new regime by making available around £40million that they would have spent on their intended closure. It still leaves Branson with the unattractive task of finding £80m-plus of his own to run the team this year in the tough economic climate.

02/18/09 (GMM)  A source close to the Brackley based formula one team has confirmed that Virgin Group is the late bidder hoping to buy the beleaguered outfit.

It has been rumored that Virgin, headed by the flamboyant British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, was the unnamed third party who stepped in and scuppered the progress of the Nick Fry and Ross Brawn-led management buyout.

"They have made a bid to purchase the team," the source, requesting to remain unidentified, was quoted as telling Reuters.

An official Honda spokeswoman declined to comment, and a spokeswoman for Virgin Group said the company is "constantly named in speculation and rumor".

Virgin has been involved with F1 before; with the Virgin Mobile brand at the Jordan team in 2002, while the Japanese Takuma Sato was driving.

Virgin Atlantic Japan still sponsors Sato, who narrowly missed out on a Toro Rosso seat for 2009.

32-year-old Sato's manager Andrew Gilbert Scott said earlier this month that he is "looking ahead for the next opportunity" for his client to rejoin F1.

Branson is also believed to be friends with Adrian Reynard, a co-founder of Honda's former BAR guise.

The team's Brackley headquarters is even located at Reynard Park, but the Reuters source did not know if the 51-year-old Briton is involved with the Virgin bid.

02/17/09 Richard Branson's Virgin Group has made a bid for the Honda Formula One team, according to a source close to the Japanese manufacturer. Both the Virgin Group and Honda declined to comment.

If confirmed, the offer could scupper a planned management buyout being led by the team's current chief executive Nick Fry, principal Ross Brawn and three other senior Honda Racing executives. With the Formula One season due to start in Australia on 29 March and time running out for a rescue of the Brackley-based team, a decision by the Japanese manufacturer is likely by the end of the month.

Honda put their team up for sale in December after announcing they were withdrawing from Formula One as a constructor and engine supplier due to the global credit crunch. The decision left the career of British driver Jenson Button in limbo while also threatening the jobs of the team's 700 employees.

If Branson did succeed in purchasing Honda, it would not be the entrepreneur's first venture into the world of Formula One, his Virgin Mobile company having sponsored the Jordan team in 2002. Virgin Atlantic Japan have also been personal sponsors of Honda-backed Japanese driver Takuma Sato for the past four years. Guardian.co.uk

02/17/09 (GMM)  As the clock to Melbourne clicks down to less than 40 days, the latest rumor in the Honda saga is that Sir Richard Branson may be the mysterious late bidder for the Brackley based team.

It seems clear that the proposed management buyout, led by Nick Fry and Ross Brawn, came close to fruition in recent days, until reports that an "unnamed third party" stepped in at the eleventh hour.

The Daily Telegraph quoted a source as describing the unnamed company as "reputable, able to bring long-term financial stability, with a brand image known throughout the world.

"Formula one would do well to have them on board," the source added.

Flamboyant British billionaire Branson heads the predominantly travel, entertainment and lifestyle brand Virgin.

02/16/09 There are rumors that the new bidder for Honda could be the Virgin Group, the venture capital firm that is headed by Sir Richard Branson. This specializes in travel, entertainment and lifestyle products. The company is estimated to be worth $8bn. The broad-ranging empire is not all doing well at the moment with the Virgin Atlantic airline announcing a reduction in its workforce by up to 600 jobs but other businesses doing very well. The lure of F1 is not obvious, apart from as a brand-building exercise, but it could be related to Virgin Fuel. Branson says he is investing $1bn in alternative fuels for cars and airliners. Using F1 would be a good way to promote the idea.

Virgin has been operating since the early 1970s when Richard Branson first launched the Virgin record label, shops, followed by a film company, games, the airline in 1984, holidays, airships, hotels, radio stations, books, cola, vodka, trains, cosmetics, mobile phones, internet access and space travel. Virgin announced its diversification into new fuels in 2006.

The most interesting element of any potential bid for Honda's F1 team is that Branson has expressed an interest in motor racing before. in 1997 he said that Virgin would fund the British Grand Prix if it was run without any tobacco sponsorships. In 2000 Branson appeared in Monaco as a guest of his friend, next door neighbor and business partner Adrian Reynard, as the Reynard company was at the time designing seats for Virgin Atlantic airliners. Two years later there was a small sponsorship deal from Virgin Mobile for Eddie Jordan.

The most intriguing idea is that Branson might be involved in a bid to put Reynard in charge of the team of which he was one of the founders and a shareholder in the early days. Reynard still owns the land on which the team's factories are built and is believed to own one of the two buildings as well, although these are leased to the team. Reynard and Branson have long been pals and he is one of the founding members of Virgin Galactic, Branson's company dedicated to taking normal (rich) people into space. Grandprix.com

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