Virgin's switch from sponsoring Brawn GP to the new Manor F1 team has been all but confirmed, after the Guardian newspaper published on Friday a leaked e-mail saying the deal was done.
There has been intense speculation that Richard Branson's company would join the F1 newcomers for several weeks, with one source saying that the team has informed other potential sponsors that Virgin will buy into the outfit and have it renamed.
Manor itself has kept tight-lipped on the Virgin deal, with team boss John Booth telling AUTOSPORT last week that he would not comment on commercial deals. However, the Guardian has published an e-mail from Alan Donnelly, who is Max Mosley's official representative, saying the Virgin tie-up was completed several weeks ago.
"Virgin have signed to be investment partners with a share holding of around 20%," said the email.
Although the news of Virgin's deal with Manor is interesting enough, the involvement of Donnelly in the deal has added fresh intrigue -- with several teams questioning whether or not there is a conflict of interest in his role as stewards' adviser. The Formula One Teams' Association has already written to the FIA questioning Donnelly's neutrality in his steward role, although the governing body insists that any support for new teams is merely part of what should be expected to help bolster the grid and improve the sport.
The Guardian also revealed, however, that Donnelly proposed helping put together a deal with the Saudi royal family and the Manor team.
"I will be in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and look forward to seeing you at our planned meeting . . . with representatives of Manor and Virgin," wrote Donnelly in his email, sent to the Saudi royal family. "However, if you would like a pre-meeting with me privately on Sunday then please let me know."
Donnelly himself, however, insists that his visit to Saudi Arabia was purely official FIA business to meet with the country's sports ministry, potential investors in new circuits and the Saudi Motorsport Federation.
"I also met potential investors in Formula 1," the Guardian quoted him as saying. "It would be odd for an FIA representative to refuse to assist in any of these projects."