F1 News: Sir Richard Branson, What Are You Thinking?


Sir Richard Branson after having lost all his hair due to stress, yesterday.

As we mentioned briefly last week, Manor Grand Prix’s inclusion in the exclusive triumvirate of possible participants to round out the F1 grid for 2010 has indeed prompted quite a bit of criticism. Not just up and down the paddock, either, where one would expect to hear such conversation; no less a news outlet than The Guardian has brought some new and interesting evidence to light. You know, in case you weren’t already convinced we should have been rid of Max Mosley ages ago.

On May 29, a full five days before the official team selections to round out the 2010 grid were made, FIA Chief Steward Alan Donnelly allegedly sent the following e-mail (all spelling mistakes his) to a member of the Saudi royal family with whom he was intending to meet regarding Manor Grand Prix:

“I attach both the investment and sponsorship agreement for your consideration. Virgin have signed to be investment partners with a share holding of around 20%. I will be in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Saturday evening and look forward to seeing you at our planned meeting at 3pm on Sunday, with representatives of Manor and Virgin. However if you woud like a pre-meeting with me privately on Sunday then please let me know, I will ofcourse be available.”

Since this came to light, Donnelly has defended his position. He’s stated that he was in Saudi Arabia on official FIA business, which had nothing to do with any specific team. However, he went on to add that, “I also met potential investors in Formula One. It would be odd for an FIA representative to refuse to assist in any of these projects.”

This seems to buttress the letter of complaint that the members of FOTA have lodged with the World Motorsports Council and members of the FIA who are very crucially not Max Mosley.

Regarding this new information, Ben Sayer of the rejected ProDrive team said, “We went in on the basis that it was a level playing field for new entrants and that the strongest case would be chosen. We spent a lot of time and expense on our application.” Donnelly has repeatedly said that he had no involvement whatsoever in the selection process, but perhaps he doth protest too much.

Oh, and what of Sir Richard Branson’s involvement in this story? While Virgin had previously waffled on saying whether or not they would be continuing their dealings with Brawn GP for 2010 and mumbled something about keeping their options open and perhaps seeing other people, the news that they intend to jump from the decks of the good ship Brawn GP in order to take on a partial team ownership role with Manor Grand Prix could not possibly have come at a worse point in time, from a purely-PR perspective. Way to go, Virgin!