If you’ve been watching Formula 1 for a few years then you’ll know that Richard Branson, boss of Virgin and one of the UK’s richest men, has been around the series but only dipped his toe in the lukewarm waters of the world’s most advanced for of motorsport.
With Brawn GP, Branson advertised on the side of the car and it was nearly a race-by-race deal. Even when Brawn GP was winning big and many wondered why Branson didn’t buy the team or up his investment, the Englishman kept at arms length.
When the FIA announced a low-cost way to enter Formula 1, HRT and Caterham (then Team Lotus) joined a new team with Virgin plastered all over the car. Finally, some thought, Richard has bought a team and gotten into F1. It seemed a great marriage as Red Bull, another marketing juggernaut, was doing well in the series.
But like Brawn GP, Virgin pulled out of the team leaving them as Marussia after the Russian organization took controlling interest of the team. Many heads were scratched but it became apparent that Branson had a passing appetite to be in F1 and not an all-in passion.
Branson, like F1’s Bernie Ecclestone, is a shrewd businessman and I believe the investment in Formula 1—specifically owning teams—is a very touchy and high-risk endeavor. Genii Capital (Lotus F1), Caterham, HRT (deceased), Sauber, Force India and a host of other team such as Super Aguri, Jordan and Spyker/Midland have all come and gone.
Branson knows this very well and he’s weighed the investment and likelihood of a return on that investment. Having chosen not to play in the Formula One sandbox, he now has taken aim and a competing series known as Formula E.
The Formula E series is an all-electric racing series featuring battery-powered open-wheel cars like Formula 1 and will race in city centers around the world with two races scheduled in 2014 in the US.
Branson’s former F1 team boss, Alex Tai, will run the team. Branson told Reuters:
“The launch of the Formula E Championship is exciting news for racing fans but also for those that believe in developing the great electric cars of the future,” said Branson.
“The need to create fast, dependable and durable race cars will help to accelerate the sector and showcase electric cars to a large global audience,” he said.
Branson is an adventurer and entrepreneur at heart so his investment in Formula E makes some sense. His investment in a space program called Virgin Galactic is also a program of big investment for Virgin as well.
Formula E is being regulated by the FIA and promotion for the series has been on overdrive as of late with Spanish businessmen Alejandro Agag and Enrique Banuelos both investing $!00 million in the series.