So Richard Branson calls me. Guy has an ego the size of one of his hot air balloons (with the same filling as well, for that matter) but he’s a fellow billionaire so what does one do? You hitch up your pants and pick up the phone.Turns out he’s on one of his rants, the one about getting screwed just after buying Manor because Max promised him everyone’s budget would be cut to 40 million quid and now Max is gone and so’s the budget cut and that’s not fair. Now the big guys are spending upwards of 200 mil and Virgin Racing are the laggards of the field. I say, Dick (he hates it when you call him that), you’re a businessman. You know life ain’t fair so stop whining. Plus, you’ve got plenty of dosh so throw in a couple of extra millions and you can prance around the front of the grid again in your shiny silk shirts.
He’s says no can do – Virgin’s all about doing stuff on a budget so we can’t be seen spending like crazy the way those prats from Ferrari and McLaren do. I’ve got to think of my reputation. Look at how we got away with covering up that Brawn car for only two and a half million! Got more than 100 million quid’s worth of TV exposure in return! Now that’s what I call Virgin territory! Haha!
I cringe. Heard this story half a dozen times before, and every time the TV exposure goes up by another 10 mil. The guy’s insufferable. But he has a team now so he’s a customer. So I commiserate, tell him yeah life’s a household appliance and then you marry one. But anyway is there any other reason for this call? Because I’m sorta pressed for time, gotta run you know, places to go and things to do.
So then he comes to the point. Thing is, Bernie, he says, you still control those TV rights, don’t you? So if you make sure these TV cameras are trained a bit more on the back of the grid, I’ll get more exposure for my cars. That way I can get a couple more sponsors in so we increase the budget and Virgin can still claim to get away with spending only 40 mill. Do me a favour, Bernie old chap. And by the way, you know you’re always welcome to use my Caribbean island, y’know. Any time you feel like it, drop in and there’s a villa ready for you and any number of Svetlanas you care to bring.
I tell him of course I still control the TV rights. They’ll have to pry them from my cold dead hands. Sooner will the Earth come to an end than that Bernie Ecclestone will let go of his most prized possession. (I suddenly realise the current contract with FIA runs out in 2012, of all years. Creepy.) But controlling the rights and aiming those cameras are not the same thing. Say what, I’ll see what I can do. No guarantees but will do my best. OK? Gotta run now, ta ta.
I cut the connection. Jerk.