Di Grassi to get Virgin berth

Virgin Racing – which will be named used by Manor Grand Prix – has confirmed that its second driver will be Brazilian Lucas di Grassi. He will join former Toyota driver Timo Glock in the team. Di Grassi has been Renault’s test driver for several years and this year finished third in the GP2 championship, behind Nico Hulkenberg and Vitaly Petrov. The team has also confirmed that Portugal’s Alvaro Parente will be its test and reserve driver. He is also competing in GP2. Brazil’s Luiz Razia has also been named as a test driver but with testing limited this will be a largely honorific role.

Launching the team, Sir Richard Branson said that: “Our first year in F1 [with Brawn GP this year] was tremendous for the Virgin brand, so why not go in again with a new team from scratch? If you look at the history of Virgin we’ve loved supporting technical breakthroughs, great engineers, and there’s something like 120 engineers working away on this project.”

Branson said that Virgin Racing will have one of the smallest budgets with the plan being to spend less than $60m.

The private equity arm of the Lloyds Banking Group plc has announced that it will be taking a shareholding in the team. This is a slightly controversial move as the British government owns a 43.4% shareholding in the bank and thus the deal could be seen to be involving public money. The reality is that the Virgin Racing stake is a simple investment which the bankers believe will produce a profit. The investment is believed to be in the region of $15m.

Alex Tai will be the chief executive of the team with Manor’s John Booth as sporting director. South African Etienne de Villiers, who was president and managing director of Walt Disney International Europe and later President of Walt Disney Television International, will be the chairman of the team. He is currently chairman of BBC Worldwide and was executive chairman of the ATP tennis tour until the start of the year.

Booth said: “I’ve never had any ambitions to be in Formula 1, purely because it was so out of reach. The FIA in their wisdom quite rightly decided to introduce some sort of cost restriction. At the same time as making Formula 1 more affordable for its current competitors, it opened up our own horizons and that of other teams. I think Nick is a design genius and I have absolute faith in his ability to design a fantastic car. In turn he has the belief in our ability to run it. There is already a great chemistry within the team and this is inspiring a lot of confidence.”

The team will have backing from currency exchange company FxPro, which was previously involved with the BMW Sauber team. There will be additional backing from the leisure clothing company Kappa, Oxigen Investments, the London based green investment company that specialises in planting and harvesting the finest species of exotic tropical hardwoods in the rainforests of Brazil, Costa Rica and Malaysia. The compay wants to draw attention from consumers and independent financial advisors to it investment model. There is also backing from CSC, an independent IT services company, which works closely with Virgin Atlantic Airways; from Clear a shampoo brand; and Carbon Green, a technology company that is best known for recycling of tyres. In addition there is a deal with the Marussia high performance sports car company in Russia, which uses engines provided by Cosworth.

What is missing, however, is a title sponsor.

17 thoughts on “Di Grassi to get Virgin berth

  1. With a small-ish budget and a multiplicity of sponsors, they may decide not to go with a title sponsor. If Virgin have decided that their own biggest exposure is the name of the team, they may have decided to sell up every square inch of the car to a number of sponsors, and get their own exposure from mentions of the car (and I’m Richard Branson will enjoy all references to “the Lotus getting up inside the Virgin in the hairpin”, etc etc ad nauseam). Certainly title sponsorship brings benefits which are somewhat limited. Notwithstanding that they’re the actual name, nobody calls the cars the “Vodaphone McLaren” or the “AT&T Williams”.

    If Richard Branson has done nothing in the past 40 years, he’s learned how to build a brand. I’m sure he will be as effective in F1 as he has been in airlines and radio and records and everything else.

    Maybe the USF1 boys could get him to do a little consulting on the side?

  2. Regarding the title pun, Joe has touched on it in his podcasts with Sidepodcast when discussing GP+ and its titles.

    Go have a listen, it is interesting.

  3. “Di Grassi to get Virgin berth.” Who said, “A bun is the lowest form of wheat?”

    So that is the Lotus and Virgin F1 seats filled. USF1 and Sauber to make their signings and 1 seat left at Campos. This must be one of the longest silly seasons ever.

  4. Joe, surely ‘Virgin’ is the title sponsor of the team, ala how ‘Red Bull Racing’ and the old ‘BMW.Williams F1 team’ monikers etc?

    1. Giuseppe,

      No, the team name is Virgin Racing, so if they get sponsored by the Vestal watch company the team would be known as Vestal Virgin Cosworth

  5. Isn’t Nick Worth the same designer who was responsible for Roland Ratzenberger’s car? As for the pun, well, we’ll have to get used to commentaries such as Hamilton just passed a Virgin or Button is getting ready to do the same. Maybe today’s drivers are all choir boys but in the old days drivers had different girl friends waiting for them at different circuits. According to folklore one year there was a GP in South Africa and all the Lufthansa stewardesses stayed for the weekend. Beats attending an FIA Press conference!

  6. @Joe, given your reply to Giuseppe, does this mean, in the immortal words of Procul Harum, that the Vestal Virgins are leaving for the Cos…worth?

  7. “No, the team name is Virgin Racing, so if they get sponsored by the Vestal watch company the team would be known as Vestal Virgin Cosworth”

    A more perfect marketing marriage I cannot think of off the top of my head 😀

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