Richard Branson's Virgin Group have made a bid for the Honda Formula One team, a source close to the Japanese manufacturer said. "They have made a bid to purchase the team," said the source, who declined to be identified. A spokeswoman for Branson declined to comment, saying the Virgin Group was "constantly named in speculation and rumour". However, according to the BBC Sport website, a Honda spokesman stated: "We are negotiating with several buyers and one of these parties is the Virgin Group." 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 F1 season due to start in Australia on March 29 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 and possibly within days. Honda put their team up for sale in December after announcing they were withdrawing from F1 as a constructor and engine supplier due to the global credit crunch. The decision left the career of the British driver Jenson Button in limbo while also threatening the jobs of the team's 700 employees.
Branson has been involved with F1 before to a minor extent, his Virgin Mobile company sponsoring 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. Sato lost his place in F1 last year when the Super Aguri team folded and an attempted comeback with Toro Rosso failed when that team gave the Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais the nod instead for 2009.
Branson is a friend and business associate of Adrian Reynard, co-founder of the BAR team that became Honda in 2006. The Honda team factory is situated in Reynard Park. The source did now know whether Reynard was involved in any bid. Honda have struggled to raise sponsorship for their underperforming F1 team, spending an estimated US$300 million (Dh1.1 billion) of their own money for scant reward last season when they finished ninth overall.
Since Honda announced their departure, the sport has moved to slash costs and the governing body wants to go even further for 2010. The International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Max Mosley has said he wants independent teams to be able to compete on a budget of around ?50m (Dh231m), a sum that could be raised from the sport's revenues and limited sponsorship. *Reuters