Virgin to ditch Brawn GP for Manor?

UPDATE #5 (GMM) Virgin will next week finally confirm F1's worst kept secret. Even though the news has been known unofficially for months, and then confirmed by the FIA with the recent publication of its entry list, the high profile brand headed by Sir Richard Branson is now set to announce its tie-up with the new F1 team Manor. The media event to launch 'Virgin Racing' will take place at London's Louise Blouin Foundation building on Tuesday morning.

11/30/09 This rumor is updated to 'fact' today. The FIA published the 2010 FIA F1 entry list and the Manor team was entered as Virgin .

11/10/09 Virgin agreed to sponsor the team just before the season began in March, just weeks after Brawn had secured their survival in the wake of Honda's decision to pull out of the sport.

The decision paid off as Jenson Button took the Drivers' Championship, with his efforts and those of team-mate Rubens Barrichello also enough for Brawn to take the Constructors' title.

But team principal Brawn has conceded that he does not expect the Virgin partnership to continue as his all-conquering team look to repeat their success in 2010.

"We had a great year with Virgin but they have different ambitions next year so it's unlikely you will see their name on the car next year," he said.

"They had the faith or good luck to be with us from the start and won a Championship with us but it doesn't look like they will continue."

Brawn also hinted that a link-up with engine manufacturers Mercedes-Benz was not far away from being finalized.

The German car giants have been linked with taking a 75% stake in the Brackley-based team which could provide the financial backing required to again see off Ferrari and McLaren.

"Mercedes is a very important part of our team and without the engine we would not have won the Championship," said Brawn.

"It was the best engine in Formula One and we have formed a great partnership together.

"We are looking at all opportunities for the future but it is too early to announce anything yet.

"But it is an amazing contrast we have been through as a team this year.

"We were in the depths of despair last winter when we didn't know if we would have a team at all and then to win the World Championships was amazing.

"It has been an incredible journey but now we must focus on next year."

Brawn revealed the team have been working hard in order to ensure their continued progress next season.

"We are in good shape for next year," he added.

"We were fortunate to get a big lead early on and that allowed us to start on next year's car early.

"We could consolidate and concentrate on finishing races and picking up the points to wrap up the title and our design team have been working flat out on the 2010 car since the summer."

11/10/09 Everyone in F1 circles knows that Virgin is planning to launch its own Virgin F1 operation in 2010, based on the entry being created at the moment by Manor. Virgin people have been kicking around the paddock for months and seem to be surprised that people have spotted them and figured out what is happening.

It has been clear from very early in the season that Virgin's opportunistic deal with Brawn GP was not going to continue as the numbers being offered by Virgin did not add up for 2010.

As Brawn had funding this year from Honda, the Virgin deal – as with other one-offs later in the year – were really icing on the cake. Brawn is not ready to confirm it yet, but Mercedes-Benz (or an affiliate) is going to buy into the team and will bring its own sponsorships, which are believed to include Mobil.

10/21/09 (GMM) Sir Richard Branson is still not ready to confirm his plans for the Virgin brand's ongoing involvement in formula one next year.

The British billionaire's $400,000 per race arrangement with Brawn GP this year was extremely successful.

But with the success of the Brackley based team pushing the price much higher, it is widely believed that Branson is set to switch his allegiance to the new Manor outfit, with a sweeping new collaboration involving the transfer of equity and even naming rights.

But speaking with BBC's Radio 5 Live on Wednesday, the 59-year-old said he is not ready to confirm Virgin's plans for F1 in 2010.

"We will make a decision after Abu Dhabi, which is the final race of the season," he said.

Branson however pointed out that the conditions in which Virgin chose to become involved with Brawn are no longer present, but suggested that the time is not right to announce a split.

"Virgin loves to support an underdog but they are now one of the most expensive teams out there and certainly not underdogs anymore," he insisted.

"We will make an announcement in the next month but at the moment we just want to celebrate a magnificent season with the Brawn team."

10/21/09 Richard Branson says he will decide which team will get his Virgin Group's 2010 sponsorship cash after Formula One's final race in Abu Dhabi.

It is widely anticipated that Virgin will switch to Sheffield's new Manor GP squad.

Branson likes to support the "underdog" and going with Manor would be a relatively cheap investment.

But today he hinted the media and airline company could yet stay with Brawn following the team's barnstorming season.

Virgin agreed to back Brawn just before the opening race in Melbourne, just weeks after the team secured their survival in the wake of Honda's decision to pull the plug.

The decision paid off as Jenson Button clinched the drivers' championship over the weekend.

And along with team-mate Rubens Barrichello, his efforts were also enough to take the constructors' title.

The season concludes in Abu Dhabi on November 1 and Branson said Virgin will then consider whether to renew their deal for next season and beyond.

He said: "It was the perfect relationship. Virgin loves to support an underdog but Brawn are now one of the most expensive teams out there and certainly not underdogs any more.

"We will make an announcement in the next month. But at the moment we just want to celebrate a magnificent season with the Brawn team, Jenson and Rubens, who did fantastically also.

"We were absolutely delighted to get involved with them when they didn't have any money before the Melbourne race.

"It enabled them to prove they had a great car and great drivers and they've obviously gone on to fantastic things."

The team's sensational showing came as a pleasant surprise to Branson.

He said: "I don't think in our wildest dreams we thought this would happen.

"I knew they had a good car as I happened to know one of the test drivers.

"But when I got on a plane to Melbourne with some Virgin stickers in my bag, having just shaken hands and given them some money, the last thing I expected was first and second in the championship race."

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