Richard Branson has labeled Ferrari's attack on Formula 1's new teams as "sad" and thinks the Italian outfit should be welcoming fresh competition rather than be unhappy about it.
A column on Ferrari's website this week attacked the push by former FIA president Max Mosley to bring new teams into the sport because of the struggles that US F1 and Campos Meta had faced. It claimed Mosley's "holy war" had been a failure and reckoned that F1 would have been better off keeping manufacturers like BMW and Toyota involved.
Branson, whose Virgin Racing team is one of four new outfits that won an entry for this season, is clearly unimpressed by the stance adopted by Ferrari – especially because proposed rules breaks that would have helped new outfits were blocked by the established teams.
"I think that it is a bit sad to see Ferrari carrying on with those kinds of words," said Branson during a visit to testing at Barcelona on Saturday. "F1 needs new teams, and Ferrari won the battle of making sure the new teams were shackled. For testing, we built a new car and we are going to have to have exactly the same amount of practice time as Brawn or Ferrari or the others, who have had years and years and years to get their cars to a certain stage.
"We are not complaining about it, and we are happy to go on with it, but Ferrari should be welcoming new teams because they [the new teams] make the sport much more exciting. And we will make them look better for a year or two until we catch them up. Ultimately, I think the new teams will give Ferrari a run for their money and, I think, will make the sport more exciting – particularly as the budgets come down to more realistic levels."
Branson also believes that the move by manufacturer teams that blocked the FIA's plans to put a budget cap in place for this season was wrong.
"I think it was a pity that they were resistant and I think it is foolish, actually," he said. "I think the one thing the Virgin team will prove is that you can have a really good racing team, running very fast, within a very tight budget. There is no need to do massively expensive wind tunnel testing, or all the other things that they do to get the extra second or two."
Although the VR-01 has had a troubled baptism, with hydraulic problems and a wing failure blighting early running, Branson is not unhappy with the state his team is in.
"We are tremendously excited," he said. "We love supporting the underdogs in every area that we are in. This is one of the new teams. The new teams eight or nine months ago were going to be given a few breaks here and there in order to give them a bit of a leg up – as it is they have been told that they have to come into the race with exactly the same rules as the teams that have been going for 20, 30 or 40 years.
"So it is going to be tough for them – as it is literally having to start from scratch. But that is what we at Virgin like – we like a challenge. We've got the best people in the world to work with and it is going to be very, very exciting."
He added: "By the start of the season I think the gap between the new teams and the old teams will be less. Give it a year or two – you cannot just build a new team from scratch and immediately start beating Ferrari that has spent £400 million [$610m] on a car, whereas Virgin has spent less than £40 million [$61m].
"That is the budget that all the teams were meant to spend this year, but then at the last minute changed the rules to spend the same kinds of monies that they have been spending for years. So, the budgets are a lot less but they are going to be tremendous cars. There will be a race among the new owners and then in time the new owners will start picking off some of the established teams."
When asked about his target for the year, he said: "If this year we can beat the other new teams that will be a great start. If we can take one or two of the established teams occasionally that will be fun, and then next year we will go a little bit better and start moving forward.
"Once the budgets for the established teams comes down to the £40 million that Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA have said they must come down to, then we will see a much more equal playing field."
Branson, who was adamant during his involvement with the Brawn team last year that F1 must move toward more environmentally responsible positions, said he is confident that F1 will move to a "greener" racing fuel as soon as practical.
"I think that it is getting to within a year or so where F1 cars can be run on clean fuels," he said. "We've spoken with the powers that be and they have intimated that the second the clean fuels are available for retail, for the public, that they will adopt it in F1. And I think that is a fair compromise. Our own fuel company is rushing to get enough fuel back out into the marketplace so we can persuade F1 to use it."