With the annual Formula 1 silly season getting increasingly into full swing, three names are being mooted as the most likely candidates for a drive at Manor Grand Prix in 2010 – out-of-work Super Aguri F1 refugee Anthony Davidson, current BMW-Sauber reserve driver Christian Klien and reigning A1GP World Cup of Motorsport Champion Adam Carroll.
What's more, respected long-time F1 observer Joe Saward is reporting that it is now a matter of when
rather than if
the newcomers become Virgin F1, with the multimedia, entertainment and lifestyle brand looking set to enter into a far more in-depth relationship with Manor than has been the case with world championship leaders Brawn GP this season, thereby associating Virgin with the high-technology, high-performance and high-octane world of F1.
There are understood to have been discussions some months ago regarding the possibility of Virgin buying a share of Brawn, but the two parties were never able to agree on price, leaving Richard Branson to search for an alternative partner on the grid.
According to Saward, Virgin executive and Virgin Galactic CEO Alex Tai is in-line for the role of team principal, with Manor founder and team owner John Booth set to be re-appointed as sporting director. Tai was once an RAF pilot who joined Virgin Atlantic back in 1995 and was involved in piloting the chase plane for Branson's Virgin Global Challenger round-the-world balloon flight – and a man who is now bidding to break new ground in becoming the pilot of the first commercial flight into space.
The Cosworth-powered cars will be built by Simtek founder Nick Wirth's state-of-the-art Wirth Research facility in Bicester, Oxfordshire, and with most new teams seeking at least one experienced driver, Klien would seem to fit the bill perfectly. The Austrian has not competed at the highest level since the end of the 2006 campaign, when he was dropped by Red Bull Racing in favour of Mark Webber, but he has been clamouring for a return to F1 action ever since, and has kept his senses sharpened with testing roles for both Honda and BMW and race appearances for Peugeot as part of the Lion's Le Mans 24 Hours effort.
What's more, at just 26 still and with 46 grand prix starts under his belt – yielding a best finish of fifth place in the 2005 Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai – Klien is both young and
experienced, arguably making him the ideal contender for one of the two Manor/Virgin berths.
BBC Radio 5 Live
commentator Davidson, for his part, has made no secret of his desire to return to the top flight since Super Aguri's collapse, whilst Carroll has been snapping at the heels of promotion for some time, having won five races in the feeder GP2 Series and proved his mettle at every level below F1 – only for a lack of budget to invariably stifle the talented Irishman's ambitions of making it all the way.