F1's Sketchiest Sponsor, Rich Energy, Is Somehow Backing a Racing Team Again
Here's why this is so baffling.
The energy drink brand behind the weirdest Formula One saga of 2019 is back, albeit not in Formula One. Former Haas F1 sponsor Rich Energy announced a multi-year, multi-million dollar title sponsorship deal with British Superbike and road racing team OMG Racing, reports Autosport.
OMG Racing—now rebranded as Rich Energy OMG Racing—currently competes in the British Superbike series with BMWs in the Superbike and Superstock classes and Yamahas in Supersport. Additionally, the team plans to enter a couple of major international road-racing events in 2020: the North West 200 and Isle of Man TT. At least this new team claims that they're "fully funded for the 2020 season and beyond." Bless their hearts.
There's good reason to be skeptical of a multi-million dollar anything that's attached to Rich Energy, especially just five months after the Rich Energy F1 sponsorship got cut short. Rich had sponsored lower-profile things before, but seemingly came out of nowhere late in the 2018 F1 season.
First, the company made a bid to buy embattled F1 team Force India, but were dismissed as a non-credible bid. After that, Rich Energy tried to strike a sponsorship deal with the Williams F1 team for the 2019 season, but abruptly broke off those talks to sign on as a title sponsor for the America-based Haas F1 team instead. Haas agreed to a title sponsorship starting in 2019 through the 2022 season worth at least $45.7 million according to a letter tweeted out by Rich Energy.
This is where things got complicated, and why F1 fans raise an eyebrow whenever Rich Energy comes up.
Fans had no idea where this upstart energy drink company got the kind of money for a pricey F1 title sponsorship, especially when most of us couldn't even find a can of the stuff to try. Financial records obtained by Jalopnik stated that the company only had $770 in 2017, the year before they bid on Force India. Rich Energy CEO William Storey acquired some wealth through the sale of a tobacco farm in Zimbabwe, and in 2018, he announced a partnership with billionaire pornography mogul and West Ham United Football Club co-owner David Sullivan—a man with his own storied past that includes a 71-day prison sentence for profiting off of prostitution.
Stranger yet, the company bills itself as a very rah-rah, U.K.-based "premium British performance" drink to the point where its company Twitter account occasionally let a pro-Brexit tweet slip. However, Storey told Jalopnik that the name and drink itself were purchased from an entrepreneur who started the original Rich energy drink company in Croatia. In the end, no one was really sure how this out-of-nowhere energy drink brand had the cash needed to be an F1 title sponsor.
That isn't the only strange overlap that Rich Energy's current British owners had with someone else's idea. British bicycle designer Whyte Bikes successfully sued Rich Energy over the drink company's stag logo, forcing them to come up with a new logo and pay roughly $44,500 to Whyte. According to court reporting by Jalopnik, the judge presiding over that case claimed that Rich Energy brought "poor witnesses" and even "manufactured documentation" to court. Furthermore, Whyte didn't receive the money from Rich that they were awarded by the court-ordered deadline.
Rich Energy's corporate Twitter account was another trainwreck that was impossible to look away from. There, Rich provoked Whyte Bikes further, telling them to "enjoy the free PR while you can."
Over the next few months, Rich Energy unleased a hashtag-happy Twitter assault unsuccessfully trying to convince the internet that Rich Energy really did have the cash for an F1 sponsorship by photoshopping their logo into things they had no part of, passing off advertorial spreads that Rich paid for as good press, and complaining to United Airlines about business-class tickets, among many, many other things. Rich Energy even went after Top Gear host Chris Harris for questioning its place in F1 and "not supporting UK car companies." The vibe was less "professional race team sponsor" and more "that insufferable kid in your dorm who has a subscription to the Robb Report."
Many of Rich Energy's tweets were aimed at the most high-profile purveyor of caffeine bubbles in F1: Red Bull. Red Bull took issue with Rich's ankle-biting #betterthanredbull campaign when Rich used the slogan "forget the wings, Rich Energy gives you horns," filing a lawsuit against the company and Storey last July.
Rich Energy deleted most of their prior tweets in October, explaining via another tweet that they did so "due to a legal agreement with a competitor." (That "competitor" sure sounds like it's Red Bull, even though no resolution of Red Bull's lawsuit against Rich Energy was ever made public.)
Even Haas wasn't immune from Rich Energy's tweet-wrath. Someone at the company tried to terminate its sponsorship of the Haas F1 Team through a particularly bizarre tweet in July, thus proving that we truly live in the dumbest timeline:
@rich_energy terminated our contract with @HaasF1Team for poor performance. We aim to beat @redbullracing & being behind @WilliamsRacing in Austria is unacceptable. The politics and PC attitude in @F1 is also inhibiting our business. We wish the team well #F1 #richenergy
This tweet, which was believed to have been from Storey himself, was news to Haas along with the rest of the world. Other stakeholders in Rich Energy blamed this break-up tweet on the "rogue actions" of one employee who remained unnamed. What we do know from a letter from Haas' legal firm is that others within Rich Energy were actively trying to remove CEO William Storey and that Haas themselves had concerns about the solvency of Rich Energy as a company. (Storey maintains to this day that Haas tried to push him out of his role.)
Haas also wasn't getting paid on time when that rogue someone—widely believed to be Storey—let that tweet rip. In response to Rich Energy's very public breakup attempt, the team asked for the nearly $8 million in outstanding payments Rich Energy owed them along with with the sponsorship amounts they agreed to for 2020 and 2021—all at once. That put Rich Energy on the hook for $45.7 million on short notice when it was still extremely difficult to find a can of the stuff outside of a mail-order.
Shortly afterward, Rich Energy reorganized—without Storey—into a new company called "Lightning Volt Limited." Lightning Volt started working with a London-based unlicensed insolvency practitioner, The BDG Group, according to Companies House records posted by Pinkbike. Unlicensed insolvency practitioners like BDG step in to keep companies with major financial or legal issues from having to go through formal insolvency procedures. Storey confirmed on Twitter that he had sold his majority stake in Rich Energy "in disgust at conduct of duplicitous minority stakeholders," but included the ominous words "he'll be back!"
Sure enough, by the end of August, Storey was back on the list of directors for Lightning Volt Limited, according to records obtained by Jalopnik.
Haas ultimately parted ways with Rich Energy in September, ending the multi-year contract before its first year was over. Any amount that was left unpaid to Haas wasn't explicitly mentioned in Haas' statement on the break-up, but it's not hard to read between the lines here as to how "amicable" it was:
Haas F1 Team and Rich Energy have amicably agreed to end their partnership together in the FIA Formula One World Championship with immediate effect. While enjoying substantial brand recognition and significant exposure through its title partnership of Haas F1 Team in 2019, a corporate restructuring process at Rich Energy will see the need for a revised global strategy. Subsequently, Haas F1 Team and Rich Energy concluded a termination of the existing partnership was the best way forward for both parties. Haas F1 Team would like to express its thanks and best wishes to the stakeholders at Rich Energy.
The Drive reached out to Haas as well as Whyte Bikes to inquire as to whether Rich Energy ever fulfilled all of its prior financial obligations before announcing their latest sponsorship. We did not receive a reply at the time of this writing and will update this post if we hear back.
Since the split with Haas and the "legal agreement" that obliterated the strangest tweets from their timeline, Rich Energy has toned it down somewhat, but someone over there is still having a real normal one on Twitter. Snipping at press coverage and rival teams! Tweeting personal political takes! Posting other peoples' photos of fancy-lad activities! Continuing to post about F1 and the company as if nothing went wrong at all, right before shifting your tone entirely to slam Haas again! You know, the usual.
It's always someone else's fault, isn't it?
Rich Energy's Twitter account even briefly courted the McLaren F1 team for a new sponsorship deal in November. McLaren knew better than to respond to William Storey or Rich Energy at this point, and called out Rich Energy's moves a publicity stunt.
"I was sent that [Rich Energy tweet], and the guy obviously likes to draw attention to himself," McLaren CEO Zak Brown told Autosport. "I haven't spoken with them. I won't speak with them. I think that is an attempt to get some publicity."
Naturally, Rich Energy demanded an apology for Brown's comments on Twitter, claiming that Brown had lied about never meeting with them.
After all of that, it's hard to see how anyone could be suckered into a Rich Energy sponsorship without a major change in fortune and leadership at the company. Pro racing at all levels is expensive, and to those of us who've followed their F1 shenanigans, Rich Energy comes off as a bunch of grifters hoping to ride the coattails of yet another team without the finances to back up a major sponsorship deal.
To be fair, Rich Energy's archived tweets include a retweet of OMG Racing in July, when they were in the middle of breaking if off with Haas. The company has had a less attention-grabbing presence in other sports for a while, including a partnership with the Alex Thomson Racing sailing team that was signed in 2016. In addition to becoming F1's preeminent troll, Rich Energy tweeted about the other teams, personalities and series the company had connections with, including West Ham's soccer teams, boxers, MMA events and Isle of Man competitors. Current OMG riders David Johnson and Luke Mossey have appeared on Rich Energy's timeline for months, so there's a good chance that OMG Racing relationship was built before the F1 deal completely fell apart.
OMG Racing team owner Alan Gardner told Autosport that his team knows all about the Haas F1 ordeal, but claims the company has been "transparent" with them:
We are delighted to announce Rich Energy as our title sponsor for the upcoming racing season and beyond, and to officially launch our 2020 Rich Energy OMG Racing BMW S1000RR.
We are well aware of the previous controversy linked to Rich Energy.
However, William Storey and the team at Rich Energy have been very transparent in their business dealings, to give us full confidence in our partnership to move ahead.
Someone with the newly-christened Rich Energy OMG Racing anticipated the widespread doubt about their new partner and put up a tongue-in-cheek Q&A about the new partnership. 2020 will be OMG Racing's third season as a team, and they seem to know that doing anything with Rich Energy will catapult their name into the spotlight:
Rich Energy have been a little ‘eccentric’ in the past on social media. But at the same time, we’ve made a seriously loud noise since appearing on the scene – like OMG. They are loud and aren’t afraid to look a bit daft at times by doing things differently, like us. Together we are all about pushing sport to the next level.
The Q&A goes on to say that not only is the OMG Racing effort fully-funded but that the team wants to ensure Rich Energy honors its other sponsorship agreements:
Not only are OMG Racing fully funded for the 2020 season and beyond, we are also ensuring that Rich Energy’s existing sponsorship agreements are fully paid.
Hopefully "fully funded" means "we got paid upfront" or "we have the budget to run regardless of Rich Energy's sponsorship cash." (The Drive has reached out to Rich Energy OMG Racing for clarification as to what this means.) As far as the Haas fallout goes, OMG Racing's Q&A says that Haas' statement "seems pretty amicable to us."
Of course, the man most blamed for that breakup with Haas—Storey—is still in the picture. OMG Racing's Q&A took time to poke fun at Storey's infamous Haas-taunting photoshop from July when addressing this:
Is HE still involved? What’s the deal?
Yes, HE is, given that William Storey is the CEO of Rich Energy. The enigmatic figurehead definitely gives us plenty of content. He’s a big bike fan, and with a beard like that, we can’t exactly disguise him. So yes, he’ll be around. We were thinking a milk float for a paddock scooter…
Cans of the hard-to-find Rich Energy drink are also available through the Rich Energy OMG Racing page... as a preorder.
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