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Page last updated at 13:34 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Lucas di Grassi joins new-look Virgin Formula 1 team

Driver Timo Glock, Virgin boss Richard Branson, Virgin design boss Nick Wirth and second driver Lucas di Grassi
Branson has plumped for a new team for Virgin's next foray into F1

Virgin boss Richard Branson launched his brand's new Formula 1 venture after joining forces with the new Manor team.

Brazilian novice Lucas di Grassi was unveiled on Tuesday as ex-Toyota driver Timo Glock's team-mate.

Branson has decided Virgin will get more value out of backing an underdog after sponsoring Brawn GP in their championship-winning debut season.

Branson said: "Our first year in F1 has been tremendous. Why not start another team from scratch?"

Virgin are one of four new entrants joining F1 next season, along with US F1, Campos and Lotus F1.

Branson told BBC Sport that Virgin had signed a three-year title sponsorship deal that did not involve any equity in the team. He added that Virgin had "lent the team some money".

Branson added: "Last year with Brawn, they started the season as a David and it ended it as a Goliath.

"So we searched around for another great team, another David team, we have one and we will see how it goes."

Brawn have been taken over by Mercedes and will race as Mercedes Grand Prix next year. Nico Rosberg has been signed as one of their drivers and it looks increasingly likely that seven-time champion Michael Schumacher could come out of retirement to be the other.

Under the slogan 'a new team for a new era', Branson added: "The new era is seeing the costs of entry come down.

"This team will be the lowest-budget team in Formula 1. It will run under the £40m per year that was being set by F1.

"But money's not everything. They are determined to prove that via engineering prowess, great drivers and a great affinity with the public they can do well.

"Over the last four decades Virgin has invested in and supported incredible engineering minds who have literally been pushing the technological boundaries of what man previously believed was possible.

"We knew there was an extremely successful designer (Nick Wirth) out there who could bring something different to the sport with his all-digital approach to designing racing cars.

"So we thought, 'Why not back a new British team?' I believe that, with the right bunch of people, you can achieve anything. It might take a while to get there but I believe, with this team of people on-board, Virgin Racing can go all the way."

Glock, who will be entering his third season in F1, signed a two-year deal to become Virgin's lead driver after finding himself without a drive for 2010 following Toyota's withdrawal.

"You run a bit against the wall (as a second driver) so this will be different," said Glock, who missed the final three races of the season after crashing during qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix.

"It's a long story but my decisions were made for me before Japan and so I came to see Manor.

"Teams were still talking to me in Abu Dhabi but my feelings did not change. I realise they are serious and I'm looking forward to it."

Virgin boss Richard Branson is flanked by drivers Lucas di Grassi (left) and Timo Glock
Branson has left the title-winning Brawn team to join forces with Manor

Glock said he was convinced his fellow countryman Michael Schumacher would return to F1 next season in the wake of rumours linking the seven-time champion with Mercedes.

"I don't know anything, but in my personal opinion I'm 100% sure he will be back. It would be great to race against him," Glock said.

Di Grassi, whose move was exclusively predicted by BBC Radio Sheffield, became Renault's reserve driver in 2009 but will now make his F1 race debut with Virgin Racing.

The 25-year-old finished runner-up to Glock in the 2007 GP2 Series, F1's feeder competition.

"Timo is the reference I have as my starting point," said Di Grassi. "I can learn from him and push myself to try and beat him. I think it will be a healthy relationship.

"From what I've seen of the car it looks fantastic and I hope it's as fast as it looks."

The team's reserve drivers will be GP2 drivers Alvaro Parente of Portugal and Luiz Razia of Brazil.

Manor, who are run by former single-seater champion John Booth, were awarded a place on the 2010 grid last June.

They entered F1 at a time when former motorsport boss Max Mosley was proposing a £40m budget cap on the sport - an idea that was rejected in a power struggle with the F1 teams, who succeeded in forcing Mosley not to stand again as president of governing body the FIA in October's elections.

I've worked with John Booth before so I know this is a pure racing team - that's why I chose it

Lucas di Grassi
New Virgin F1 driver

Instead, the teams have agreed to restrict budgets to "mid-1990s levels" which will probably mean the leading teams spend more than £100m in 2010.

Manor Motorsport have a successful history in junior single-seater racing and can count former world champions Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton as past drivers.

Manor founder John Booth takes on a new role as Virgin Racing's sporting director while Alex Tai, a former Virgin Group director, becomes team principal.

The team aims to fire up the cars on 25 January before a shakedown at Silverstone.

"I've been asking the question all night as to how we managed to arrive here," Booth said. "But the budget restrictions have allowed us to get involved, and at the moment I'm on cloud nine.

"We're the new kids on the block and we need to earn our place on the grid."

Now, the company are preparing to take a huge leap forward into F1 as the rebranded Virgin Racing team.

Di Grassi said: "It's a dream come true for me. I feel I'm ready. I've worked with John Booth before so I know this is a pure racing team. That's why I chose it."


Former Benetton designer and Simtek team owner Nick Wirth is leading the team's technical division from his headquarters in Bicester, Oxfordshire.

Wirth has decided to design the new Virgin car without using a wind-tunnel, a tool for shaping a car's aerodynamics that has been de rigueur in F1 for 30 years.

Instead, he has decided to design the car wholly using computational fluid dynamics - which current teams use alongside wind tunnels.

Wirth was Benetton chief designer as the team slid from competitiveness in the late 1990s following Michael Schumacher's departure for Ferrari.

Simtek had an ignominious two years in F1 in 1994-5 before collapsing with debts of £6m.

"The loop of digital design is key to our operation," Wirth said.

"We are now going to race teams on an equal basis and whoever is the most efficient team will win."

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see also
Mercedes eager to sign Schumacher
15 Dec 09 |  Formula 1
Glock to lead new Manor F1 team
17 Nov 09 |  Formula 1
Manor set for Virgin rebranding
30 Nov 09 |  Formula 1

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