With its North Carolina base the Haas F1 team entered the sport in 2016, surprising everyone by nabbing highly rated French ace Romain Grosjean as lead driver.
Loudmouth maverick Kevin Magnussen joined in 2016 (the driver line-up remains the same) and with engineer and team manager Gunther Steiner at the helm things were going well!
Until last week, when it all went mental due to its 2019 title sponsor wanting to pull the plug. Things went from odd to surreal pretty quickly.
Getting Rich On Energy
Although Haas has done well in its brief spell in F1, it’s also regularly involved in controversy.
Part of this was caused by Romain Grosjean, who in 2018 went into self-destruct mode and spent the first half of the season colliding with barriers, drivers, and anything else that moved.
He got his act together by mid-season, but in 2019 the team has imploded. Despite having a quick car, Haas remains unable to find any race performance. So the two drivers tend to qualify high up the grid and then, bizarrely, plunge down to the back by the end of the race.
After a thrilling Austrian GP that saw Haas finish pretty much last, the team’s title sponsor sent out a strange tweet.
Today @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 pic.twitter.com/9mAt2dOnYu
— Rich Energy (@rich_energy) July 10, 2019
The following day, Haas’s Gunther Steiner denied this and said the team would be running the sponsorship livery on its cars for the British GP on 14th July.
The situation becomes more complex here. We hadn’t even noticed the Rich Energy sponsorship on the car, frankly, it just has a nice black-yellow livery. But the dispute, which made a lot of sporting headlines, drew more attention to the Rich Energy brand.
This is an energy drink, apparently along the lines of Red Bull. In fact, the brand seems hell-bent on challenging the brand for market domination. But you don’t seem to be able to buy it in a shop – anywhere.
Matters became more confusing as it emerged Rich Energy has recently lost a legal battle over the use of its logo, which is uncannily similar to a brand called WHYTE BIKES.
Over the following days the situation devolved into Rich Energy sending out increasingly unusual messages across social media.
@rich_energy CEO @_williamstorey has commented “The ludicrous statement by minority shareholders cosy with @redbull & @WhyteBikes is risible. Their attempted palace coup has failed. I control all of the assets of @rich_energy & have support of all key stakeholders” #RichEnergy pic.twitter.com/1d32m1AELG
— Rich Energy (@rich_energy) July 11, 2019
Its bearded (now former) CEO William Storey is an entrepreneur. After a bit more wrangling, press releases, contentions from Haas’ Gunther Steiner, and a disastrous British GP for the F1 team, this happened.
— Rich Energy (@rich_energy) July 14, 2019
So at this point you have an apparently major brand mocking the car it’s lovingly adorning.
Except it’s unclear if Rich Energy is a brand, or it exists to try and challenge Red Bull as a, sort of, high-end drink that only the elite can afford.
Or something. Is it a fake business there for showboating? Well, we’re happy to confirm the confusion continues.
Just to disavow people of lies from @HaasF1Team please see below. @rich_energy terminated the agreement as we said. The team have accepted contrary to their public denial.They were complicit in trying to oust CEO William Storey who even gave them a £35m personal guarantee #truth pic.twitter.com/RZodxJd4js
— Rich Energy (@rich_energy) July 14, 2019
Haas continued to counter the statements, until we reached a culmination of it all yesterday over what were clearly a few hectic hours.
William Storey founder of @rich_energy has sold his majority stake in the legal entity of Rich Energy Ltd to a third party. This was in disgust at conduct of duplicitous minority stakeholders. In the words of @Schwarzenegger he’ll be back!#richenergy #F1 #nobull #williamstorey pic.twitter.com/wvjRBAIqx9
— Rich Energy (@rich_energy) July 16, 2019
Storey continued lambasting Haas and minority stakeholders, suggesting they were trying to advance Red Bull’s market domination. There seems to be a great desire to defeat the Red Bull product and F1 team here.
But as of 16th July, Storey no longer has anything to do with Rich Energy. Matthew Kell has replaced him as CEO.
The company has also now changed its name to Lightning Volt. The deal with Haas is ongoing (apparently) and what remains is a weird corporate mess that seems to have been triggered off by one man.
This is made all the more entertaining (sorry Haas, but is has been – we do support you, though!) as Gunther Steiner became famous for his starring role in the 2019 Netflix F1 documentary Drive to Survive.
The guy stole the show and was all anyone was talking about.
If you haven’t seen Drive To Survive on @netflix yet, you’re missing out
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 15, 2019
Throughout each episode, which follows Haas’ adventures closely, the lovable Steiner – who’s Italian and has a long career in motorsport – spends a large proportion of his time swearing in broken English.
His use of profanity is relentless, inventive, and very amusing. The highlight for us was his assessment of Grosjean’s complaining during the 2018 French GP, “Tell him to stop… fucking whinge and drive.”
This made him an immediate hit with fans, although some of his antics were questionable. For instance, at a party for the team he openly mocks Grosjean following on from his 2018 crash-spree. As Steiner put it on the day:
"Maybe Romain didn't want to come because he has no points. Or maybe I didn't invite him because he doesn't deserve any food."
So, yeah, welcome to the chaotic world of Formula One. The Mercedes’ teams dominance since 2014 hasn’t detracted from the entertainment factor.
F1 is highly political. It’s more of a business than a sport. There’s a lot of bickering and power struggling. For those of us outside peering in, it’s all rather ridiculously gladiatorial – but very entertaining.