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Australia 2009

29th March 2009

Virgin territory.

Saturday March 27, lunchtime, the far end of the best paddock of the year: the international media has gathered directly behind the Brawn team’s garage.

On virgin white boards a mechanic is hastily applying decals in readiness for the imminent announcement we’ve assembled to witness.

Flash, bash, bump and push, “Sir Richard, over ‘ere”, “Branson, Branson, this way”, “Girls, girls, gissa smile, any chance of an upgrade?” The Formula 1 snappers are in full voice as they shuffle backwards, shooting all the while.

Centred in their sights is a grinning Knight of the Realm flanked by two flag-waving dolly birds, all eagerly soaking up the adulation of the lenses. Virgin Formula 1 has arrived and this action man of a company boss is making the most of it.

As things calm down and the announcement is made the gossip turns to the terms of the deal. Speculation is rife over the minutiae. Rival teams’ marketing men – attempting to dismiss this undoubted coup – are painting a pessimistic picture, suggesting that the multi-year deal has been struck for minimal Virgin cash.

Whatever. For a team that were on the precipice of extinction to now jump in bed with a globally recognised blue-chip brand is top-drawer stuff, and great for the sport as a whole.

On track Branson’s timing could not have been better. The Brawn cars are blisteringly quick, pulling off that thing only great cars do: appearing to cruise along with minimal effort from the man in the driving seat. Not since early 1998 has a car looked in such a different class to that of its competitors. Hell, while watching Jenson and Rubens on their Sunday evening drive one feels anyone could do it, the cars are that good.

Aesthetically they’re winners, too – something I’m certain the 1976 world champion would have approved of. Some years ago on an airport-bound drive from Vallelunga I had the pleasure of chauffeuring the legend that is James Hunt. As ever he was in fine form, regaling us with wonderful stories of racing, women, derring-do and budgie breeding. On the subject of car design James was unequivocal in his opinion: if a car looks good it’ll go good.

For the most part this maxim holds true – and, since the Brackley-based cars will soon be resplendent in Virgin’s red and white, Sir Richard will probably be grinning a good while longer.

Please now take a few minutes to enjoy my pictures from the 2009 Australian Grand Prix by clicking on the Formula 1 link at the top of the page.

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