Just over a month after rumours linking him to a possible rescue bid for the remains of the Honda F1 team faded away, Sir Richard Branson has, as expected, brought his Virgin brand into Formula One with the new Brawn GP operation.

After running a largely white livery through its brief testing programme, the team will head into the second day of the Australian Grand Prix with the world-famous Virgin logo on the cars of Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button, although notably not on either the sidepod or engine cover.

The arrangement, which brings the marketing and business skills of Branson's multi-faceted empire into the Brackley-based Brawn team, marks Virgin's first major foray into F1, and the first step in what is anticipated to be a broader relationship between the two parties.

"On behalf of the Brawn GP team, we are delighted to have signed a partnership agreement with Sir Richard and Virgin in Melbourne today," team principal Ross Brawn said in a statement, "An exciting debut race weekend for our team has become even more important as we have secured our second commercial agreement of the season, [and] we look forward to working closely with the Virgin Group and sharing our on-track successes."

Branson, who has the goal of offering commercial space travel in the near future, has often stated an interest in becoming involved in F1. His company's mobile telecommunications arms briefly dallied with the Jordan team, but Branson is reported to have shied away from buying up the remains of Honda because the sport did not yet match his environmental ambitions.

Virgin, renowned for its position in the far-from-green airline business, is working on developing more environmentally-sound fuels for the future, but has now opted to test the F1 waters with someone Branson sees as a kindred spirit.

"I have always said I would love for Virgin to be involved in Formula One, and I am thrilled that we will be entering this fantastic sport with people as skilled as Ross Brawn and the Brawn GP team," he noted.

"Over the years, Virgin has had the great honour of partnering with technical geniuses and I truly believe that Ross Brawn is to F1 what Burt Ratan is to space travel with Virgin Galactic.

"We are confident that the Virgin BGP 001 car driven by Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello will go from strength to strength this season and we look forward to a great future working with the Brawn GP team."



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