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Page last updated at 16:45 GMT, Thursday, 11 November 2010

Russian supercar firm Marussia takes over Virgin Racing

Richard Branson
With one race remaining Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Racing team are yet to pick up a point in their debut F1 season

By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport in Abu Dhabi

Virgin Racing have secured their place on the Formula 1 grid until 2014 after Russian carmaker Marussia Motors bought a controlling interest in the team.

The team will be rebranded as Marussia Virgin Racing in 2011 and their new car is set to be launched in Moscow.

Virgin team boss John Booth said: "It's massive. The future was solid but this makes us secure for four years."

The team will continue its relationship with Richard Branson's Virgin brand, who joined as title sponsors in 2009.

The British tycoon signed a three-year title sponsor deal with the rookie team last December, which saw Sheffield-based Manor Motorsport rebranded as Virgin Racing.

Branson said of the new deal inked in Abu Dhabi: "Virgin is delighted to have secured a partner which shares our vision and spirit for challenging the establishment."

The team's new partnership is headed by Russian Top Gear presenter and racing driver Nikolay Fomenko.

Step by step we'll make it a fully Russian F1 team flying the Russian flag

Nikolai Fomenko
New owner of Virgin Racing

His company Marussia Motors has acquired an undisclosed shareholding in the team with a view to furthering Russian involvement in F1 ahead of the Russian Grand Prix, which is due to make its bow on the calendar in 2014.

"We are looking forward to this cooperation as there will be a grand prix in Sochi," Fomenko said in Abu Dhabi.

"We will [also] demonstrate to the world that a new manufacturer has arrived from Russia with truly international ambitions."

He added in an interview with the BBC Russian Service: "Last year we came together as technical partners, working on the engines for Virgin. From summer 2010 we started acquiring a significant part of the company.

"Step by step we'll make it a fully Russian F1 team flying the Russian flag - it means that today one of the twelve teams is Russian. We now have the controlling share of the company - no doubt about it."

Virgin have yet to finalise their 2011 driver line-up and the Russian cash injection has prompted speculation the team could employ a Russian driver.

Vitaly Petrov became the first Russian driver to compete in F1 this season but his future at Renault is still in doubt.

Timo Glock signed a two-year contract with Virgin in 2009 but the German has been linked to other teams, including Renault, while Brazilian Lucas di Grassi's future with Virgin remains uncertain after he lost his main sponsor mid-season.

"We're not in a hurry," said Booth. "The sooner it happens the better to settle everybody down but we're in no particular hurry.

"Certainly I'd think [we would announce it] before Christmas.

"There is nothing on the horizon for a Russian driver at the moment. They have come on in leaps and bounds over the last five years and I'm sure we'll see more in F1 in the future."


Fomenko added: "We're continuing to train Russian drivers - they are not quite there yet, but we're hoping that by next year Ivan Lukashevich will be ready for F1. But at the moment we have Brazilian driver Lucas di Grassi and German driver Timo Glock, and we're perfectly happy with that.

Virgin had an ignominious F1 baptism, first discovering their fuel tank was too small to get to the end of races before subsequently suffering a variety of reliability problems.

Former Benetton chief designer and Simtek team owner Nick Wirth has been leading the team's technical division and he says the new investment will help advance the development of the car for 2011 and beyond.

"We've had a challenging season trying to get reliability sorted but we've had a stronger second half," Wirth said.

"This [investment] will give us a solid financial platform for the future.

"We've got a five-year programme to take this team to the top and I'm excited about what we can achieve next year.

"The 2011 car is already looking very, very good."

Fellow rookies Hispania and Lotus Racing have also taken steps to push on from their debut 2010 seasons after making announcements at last week's Brazilian Grand Prix.

Hispania unveiled a new financial backer in the shape of Spanish businessman Juan Villalonga, who will work with team owner Jose Ramon Carabante to stabilise the team and attract new sponsors.

Lotus beefed up their 2011 ambitions by confirming they will be powered by Renault engines next season and will also use Red Bull's gearbox and hydraulics.

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see also
Virgin aim for 17m cash windfall
16 Jun 10 |  Formula 1
Manor set for Virgin rebranding
30 Nov 09 |  Formula 1
Virgin to sponsor Brawn F1 team
28 Mar 09 |  Formula 1

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