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.