Richard Branson’s Virgin empire has officially announced its investment in the Manor GP stable, with the new team to be known as Virgin Racing.

Having sponsored Brawn en route to its title achievement this season, Branson was bullish about taking on the challenge of running a team under his multinational banner.

"Our first year in F1 (with Brawn GP) was tremendous for the Virgin brand, so why not go in again with a new team from scratch?" Branson said. "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."

Commenting on the slogan ‘a new team for a new era’, Branson said: "The new era is seeing the costs of entry come down. This team will be the lowest-budget team in Formula One. It will run under the £40 million per year that was being set by Formula One.

"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."

In a typically lavish presentation in London’s Notting Hill, the team also announced that former Renault test driver Lucas di Grassi will partner Timo Glock in the driver line-up.

Di Grassi tested for Renault at the recent session at Jerez, but has committed to the new team. Part of Renault’s young driver programme since 2004, di Grassi achieved third overall with Manor in the 2005 F3 Euroseries, and the 25-year-old Brazilian has since finished in the top-three of the last three years’ GP2 championships, including a runner-up spot to Timo Glock in 2007. He was promoted to the role of Renault reserve driver this season as Romain Grosjean moved up to the race team following the ousting of Nelson Piquet Jr.

Manor boss John Booth will be in charge of the day-to-day running of the team and is aware of the uphill task in putting together a competitive package.

"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.

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

Technical director Nick Wirth said the new car would run for the first time in late January at Silverstone and revealed the team was already ahead of some its rivals in the design process, having passed a number of the FIA’s mandatory crash tests.

The team also named GP2 race winners Alvaro Parente and Luiz Razia as its test drivers for 2010.

[Image from Sutton Images]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.