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Branson exits Brawn tie-up

SIR Richard Branson&rsquo;s Virgin Group will drop sponsorship of the Formula One (F1) team Brawn GP next year, the business magnate said yesterday, as it has become too expensive.<br /><br />&ldquo;We got in when it was very cheap and it&rsquo;s been great for us with global coverage, but I suspect next year the price will be astronomical,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br />Virgin&rsquo;s sponsorship was key for Brawn this season, allowing the team to take part in F1.<br /><br />But the team&rsquo;s success &ndash; Jenson Button leads the driver standings, while Brawn heads the constructor&rsquo;s table &ndash; means that Virgin may be priced out of the runnings.<br /><br />&ldquo;Virgin have most likely got the mileage we needed from the sponsorship,&rdquo; Branson added. &ldquo;Their value has gone from next to nothing to &pound;50m a year and we&rsquo;re delighted for them and we&rsquo;ll have had a fantastic year with them,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br />The bearded tycoon has not ruled out switching sides, and pledging his allegiance to another team. He said Virgin &ldquo;may have to look somewhere else with a smaller team&rdquo;.<br /><br />The news came as Branson, who also owns the airline Virgin Atlantic, urged the government not to contemplate bailing out ailing carrier British Airways (BA).<br /><br />He said that his own airline had considered, but ruled out, a takeover bid for BA, on the grounds that the company was worthless, its liabilities too significant, and its pension deficit particularly problematic.<br /><br />BA management is due to hold talks with its cabin crew and ground staff this week over proposed pay cuts and lay-offs. Last week, BA boss Willie Walsh asked staff to work free.<br /><br />He has said the airline is in a &ldquo;fight for survival.&rdquo;