Senna for the new Virgin F1 team?


I am told that proper grown-up journalists do not waste time prognosticating about what may, or may not, happen in the future.

Tough. It is harmless, it is vaguely amusing, and it gives us all something to rabbit on about before we get down to business in Melbourne next month. Of course, there is much to interest us apart from the forthcoming Grand Prix season, but we are approaching what may well be a most intriguing year. In motor racing, and in the real world.

My smart friends tell me that, if we think the global banking sector is buried in the barriers right now, we ain’t seen nothing yet. Well, I don’t want to think about that, especially as I am now a reluctant shareholder in both Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland. If I wanted to be a shareholder, I would choose companies that make things we can eat, drink or smoke.

But I digress. This week I want to rejoice in two new rumours.

One: it is said that Bruno Senna will join Jenson Button at the former Honda Grand Prix team this year.

Two: it is said that Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is crunching numbers to assess the wisdom of purchasing the Honda team

I like Bruno Senna and I think he is a very competent racing driver. Not in the same stratosphere as his uncle perhaps, but quick and tidy nonetheless. About a year ago I spent a most interesting week in São Paulo, looking at the work of the Ayrton Senna Foundation.

This is a charity set up by Ayrton with the determined purpose of helping the less privileged children of Brazil. And there are a great many of them. The foundation, forcefully led by Bruno’s mother and Ayrton’s sister Vivienne, has saved literally tens of thousands of children from the scrapheap.

In the course of this job I spoke at length to Bruno about his decision to take up motor racing and about his results to date. A harder act to follow is hard to imagine but Bruno has proved himself to have the family talent, if not yet the supreme edge enjoyed by his uncle. When they raced karts against each other, Bruno often got the better of Ayrton, and the latter was emphatically not a man to give an inch to anyone, let alone his little nephew.

If Senna goes to Honda, I hope he gets the job done. It would be great for Brazil and great for motor racing. Should this come to pass, Rubens Barrichello will be a very sad and frustrated man. And he will be much missed.

I have met and spoken to Mr Branson too, in the course of my work. He seems like a pretty canny fellow with a remarkably quick mind. He is not, to my knowledge, a motor racing fan. But he is an accomplished entrepreneur, and let’s remember that Virgin is, among other things, in the business of travel, holidays and what is known as “lifestyle” products. It is, in turn, a popular perception that Grand Prix racing provides an unparalleled global marketing platform for this type of business.

No, I do not know if these rumours are based on accountable fact. But I do know that both make a lot of sense. There must surely be an announcement soon, as the former Honda team will not want to start a new season without any testing.

While many of the F1 teams struggle to prepare a competitive car for 2009, the likes of Ferrari, BMW and Toyota have been thrashing around in Bahrain. They now know that their cars are not very stable in a sandstorm.

The desert is a mysterious and rather wonderful place.

When the cars aren’t running at Sakhir, you may be lucky enough to see an Arab horseman galloping home through the storm, a dramatic exhibition of another kind of horsepower.

I wonder how things will have shaken out by the time we reach Abu Dhabi in November.

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