Branson: Formula E can surpass F1 in next five years


LONDON – Virgin Group founder and Virgin Racing team owner Sir Richard Branson believes that Formula E can surpass Formula 1 in the next five years.

Branson has invested in both championships over the past six years, sponsoring Brawn GP in 2009 before setting up Virgin Racing in F1 the following year.

Virgin eventually evolved into Marussia F1 Team and saw the departure of the British brand from the sport, but Branson returned to racing in Formula E at the start of the series’ inaugural season.

Speaking ahead of this weekend’s finale in London, Branson spoke about the comparisons that can be drawn between F1 and Formula E, making a bold statement about the future of the electric-powered series.

“I think there’s still going to be room for Formula 1 for another few more years, but I would say there will come a time when Formula E will overtake Formula 1,” Branson said.

“Formula E, you still hear the roar of the cars through the tarmac as they come around the corner, but at least you can have a conversation and a drink while you’re watching the race which you can’t do with Formula 1.

“I think four or five years from now you’ll find Formula E overtaking Formula 1 as far as number of people.”

Formula E has certainly enjoyed a successful debut season, proving many of its critics wrong by simply getting to the season finale in London this weekend.

Looking ahead to season two, three drivers have already announced contracts with existing teams, whilst a number of others are keen to stay on.

Technically, there is also set to be more freedom next season as manufacturers are allowed design their own powertrains.

As part of this, Virgin will be teaming up with Citroen offshoot DS Automobiles for season two to form DS Virgin Racing in a multi-year deal announced on Saturday.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images

Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.