December 15, 2009 / 8:13 PM / 10 years ago

Branson offers Lotus F1 boss a stewardess challenge

LONDON (Reuters) - Richard Branson challenged aviation rival Tony Fernandes to a Formula One duel on Tuesday with the loser having to dress up as an airline stewardess.

AirAsia’s Fernandes, who once worked for Branson’s music business, told Reuters last week that his new Malaysian-backed Lotus F1 team had to beat Branson’s Virgin Racing operation next season.

“Number one we have to be ahead of Branson, otherwise I will retire and kill myself,” said the Malaysian.

Branson, speaking at the launch of his team, suggested a less painful alternative.

“Having come from a music background, I suppose we might be able to choose the music for the funeral,” joked the Briton. “But I like Tony a lot so I hope he doesn’t have to kill himself.

“At the same obviously we would like to beat him. Maybe we can think of another challenge. He has an airline, we have an airline and if we beat him he can come and work on our airline as a Virgin stewardess.

“We will make sure that the stewardess outfit is perfect. I suspect that he might ask us to reciprocate,” added Branson.

“I’ll have to check how fetching his stewardess outfits are but I’d be game to do it while totally confident of winning.”

Branson and Fernandes join Force India’s Vijay Mallya, who controls the Kingfisher airline, as a trio of aviation entrepreneurs challenging the established players in the skies and on the Formula One starting grid.

“It’s a very friendly personal rivalry,” Branson said. “And it’s fun.

“What I discovered last year (as sponsor of Brawn) is that there are a billion people that watch Formula One and the people that watch it are fanatical.

“For us to be involved in Formula One is good for the brand. Formula One is a sexy beast and we are going to try and make it a little bit sexier.

“We love supporting an underdog but we like that underdog to have some pretty good qualities.”

Editing by Ed Osmond

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