Interview conducted by Olivia Hartley, Edited by Simran Kanthi
William Storey, CEO of Rich Energy, entered Formula 1 as the title sponsor of Haas in 2019. Rich Energy's black and gold signature took over the livery of the VF-19 and both parties displayed a seemingly positive outlook on their new business relationship. However, as the season progressed and the American team struggled increasingly with car performance, a mid-season public announcement was made that Rich Energy would no longer be in association with Haas.
The team principal of Haas, Guenther Steiner, stated that this news came as a surprise to him. As a result, a lot of questions were raised by fans as to why this relationship had come to a premature end. The legitimacy of Rich Energy and its financial position were also put under scrutiny as team founder, Gene Haas, suggested that they had not received all the money they were owed by the energy drinks company.
William Storey sat down with Divebomb to tell his side of the story and discuss Rich Energy's future in Formula 1.
Why is it that you want Rich Energy to be involved in motorsport?
It is primarily business. Rich Energy is a competitor to Red Bull. Red Bull's main fulcrum of their marketing is Formula 1. Therefore, we want to do what our competitors are doing.
I happen to be a long-term motorsport fan and I like F1, but primarily from a business perspective. We think we've got a better product and a better brand than Red Bull and beating them in Formula 1 is the natural marketing nirvana for us.
Going back to the first time you entered Formula 1 with Haas. My understanding is that you were in negotiations with both Williams and Haas. What happened there and why did you go with Haas?
In 2017, we tried to buy Force India, and we got as far as the contract stage. We went to meet Vijay Mallya's lawyers after several months of negotiations to sign the contract. We were told, literally the midnight hour, that Sergio Perez was going to petition, from memory, for a 12 million pound debt [owed to him by the team]. The next day, the company [Force India] was in court [as a result of being forced into administration]. I actually went to court to offer some money to avoid that happening but the administration had started. We then entered into that administration process and there were three bids. One from [Lawrence] Stroll, a Russian bid, and one from myself. We thought we had the biggest amount on the table, which we did. Stroll, however, was very close with Mercedes and Formula 1 politics became influential. Stroll was forced to pay a lot more than he wanted to, to ensure the whole thing wasn't embarrassing. So we were blocked in that particular deal.
Then we entered into talks with McLaren and Williams. Both McLaren and Williams gave us private visits where they put Rich Energy livery all over their cars, which was impressive. We felt from my perspective that Rich Energy is very entrepreneurial, creative, and not necessarily constrained by convention. We felt that McLaren were far too corporate and just the antithesis of us culturally. Williams were better, but frankly, a rubbish car.
We suddenly realised that if we entered Haas, we could get a better car. They'd been fifth the year before. We felt that they were a bit more entrepreneurial and we could get the entire identity of the car. Naming rights were very important to me. So we got the FIA name 'Rich Energy Haas' and got the full black and gold livery and assumed effectively the identity of the team, which was the objective.
During that first half of the  season, what were your relationships with people within the team like?
Very good, very amiable. Gene set up a business from nothing, so I had a lot of empathy for him. He's actually, I thought, a really good guy.
I think Steiner, to be fair to him, came up with the idea and brought it to Gene. I think he had a very successful background in motorsport, he'd got a good track record, and I think he was quite creative with this team. So yeah, I quite liked him. He's an amiable guy and I think he's pretty popular in the pit lane.
So the season starts and Haas are doing pretty well but then their performance goes downhill. They're having a lot of issues with the car, then it gets to Silverstone and you announce that the sponsorship deal is coming to an end. Why did you make that decision?
We were very disappointed with the car’s performance because we expected them to take a step forward from fifth. Our objective was to compete with Red Bull. Now some people within the pit lane would say that was slightly unrealistic in the first year, but the reality is that they were on an upward trajectory.
I think the issue for their poor performance was their disjointed package. Because of their business model, which was basically buy everything from Ferrari and bolt it together, which economically is very good because it meant they could run on a budget that was quite competitive. The problem is if they had an issue with the aero package, they really couldn't solve it. The car was a dog, right? And they couldn't improve it, so that was one thing.
Rich Energy was really exploding. We'd signed contracts with massive supermarket groups around Europe. Our competitors, the Bulls, really didn't like what we were doing. The fact that we were competing with them in their backyard and that we were having a lot of success, they didn't like that. What I didn't realise was, because Red Bull had spent five billion pounds in Formula 1, and as is very fortunately now becoming clear for everyone to see, they wield huge political power in the sport. They'd been putting a lot of pressure on Haas behind the scenes. I had some corporate investors who were in touch with all of these people who saw this political problem in F1 as an opportunity to oust me. I got wind of it and told them all to f*ck off and sacked them.
They were rats, they went behind my back, and ultimately I’m not going to tolerate that. The fact that the car was sh*t as well made it a much easier decision.
Guenther Steiner said the news that the deal was coming to an end came as a surprise to him. Is that true?
It wasn't a surprise to him because he had very clear communication with me in advance. He knew not only that they had been fired but also why. I was disappointed because I thought Steiner was a good guy. I didn't think he was a dishonest guy who would go behind my back. Rich Energy got a lot of bad publicity, but actually, if all the facts were in the open, Rich Energy would be entirely vindicated.
There was also speculation about financial support. Gene Haas stated that they only ever received the first initial payment from Rich Energy. Is there any truth in that?
No. It's rubbish. We paid for all the races we did, so ultimately we were totally up to date and entirely within our contract.
It would've been devastating for a lot of companies, not for us, and we've rebuilt. In the same month, I had legal cases with Red Bull, Haas, and corporate shareholders. I think collectively they didn't think we were prepared to do that. But I think you've gotta be principled, and we stood up for our principles and we were the only people involved who were honest and straightforward.
Moving on from your time with Haas. More recently, Rich Energy entered a sponsorship deal with the British Superbike team, OMG Racing. This deal was also terminated publicly in a similar manner this year. The team was performing quite well at the time, so why did this deal come to an end?
We signed a deal with OMG Racing in February 2020. The bike was a BMW, and it was ok. I think we've had two successful seasons with them. This year they've actually had a much better bike with the Yamaha R1.
We weren't particularly happy with the branding change because they've introduced quite a bit of blue into the bike, which is Yamaha's main colour. So we felt that the team was sort of being a bit subservient to Yamaha. The whole thing for Rich Energy is black and gold.
But the core answer to your question is that, as part of that deal, we gave them a commercial concession of Rich Energy which included distribution rights in certain territories. Basically, they weren't performing. We then found out, unfortunately for the second time, that there was a motorsport team who weren't being entirely honest with us. We asked them some very strong questions on that because we'd been given information, which was concerning, and they refused to answer those questions. I've got to protect the brand's reputation and I'm not going to work with people who don't have ethics or integrity.
Was that again dealt with behind closed doors before that public announcement was made?
Indeed. A lot of people within the motorsport fraternity, certainly among the media, choose to see it as another example of what happened with Haas, but that's complete rubbish.
There are loads of very high-quality people who actually know the truth and who are working very well with us. For example, we agreed on a deal in March of this year, I think it was, to become the title sponsor of BTC Racing. So that's Rich Energy BTC Racing for touring cars. We then signed Jason Plato, who's probably the most famous British Touring Car driver. We've got Josh Cook, the fastest British Touring Car driver. And we've got Jade Edwards, who is an incredibly talented driver. We've just won the Independent Teams and Independent Drivers Championship in British Touring Cars. And, you know, zero issues whatsoever.
We are about to announce some other motorsport developments. British Touring Cars is second only to Formula 1 in the UK in terms of scale and we are on a steep upward trajectory. Rich Energy re-entering Formula 1 is a case of when, not if.
You have stated that when Rich Energy re-enters Formula 1, you want it to be with a competitive team. Are you hoping to compete at the top with teams like Red Bull?
Absolutely. I'm very relaxed, and you know, I work hard, but I enjoy life. But, it will give me some pleasure to beat Red Bull, of course it will. For me, what they've done in terms of their conduct is perfect. It's absolutely brilliant because we will enjoy beating them even more.
You said that Rich Energy re-entering Formula 1 is a case of when, not if. You've also told me that you are currently talking to multiple Formula 1 teams. Can you reveal which team/s you are hoping to work with?
Yes, that's correct. If they're not in the top five teams, we're not interested. And obviously, one of the teams in the top five, we would never talk to.
When can we expect to see Rich Energy in Formula 1 again?
At the moment, we have an option to sponsor a team for 2023, but it's not a title sponsorship. I'm not sure that's going to work for us because you don't want to go from a title sponsor to just a partner.
I think in terms of title partnership, and/or ownership or co-ownership, 2024 is more realistic, which is slower than I'd hoped. We may still do a deal for 2023, but if we've got a major co-ownership deal for 2024, why sponsor a team for 2023 when it isn't that team?
And there's a lot of politics. F1 is very PC [politically correct], which I personally think is incredibly boring. But it's huge in America right now, and the biggest energy drink market in the world is in America, so it makes sense for us. We've got our options increasing daily and we're in talks, so within the next two years. I would say that we will be able to announce a deal within the next nine months.
Have you had any issues with a lack of trust from the teams you've been in talks with as a result of the bad publicity you received in 2019?
No, I don't think so. The reality is that there was a portrayal put forward by Haas and my detractors, and those close to and actually involved in the sport increasingly realised that. So, they're aware. In fact, there are a lot of intelligent people involved in the ownership of Formula 1 and three team owners who have personally reached out to me and said, 'we support you 100%'.
Along similar lines, do you think that fans will struggle to engage with a team sponsored by Rich Energy given its damaged reputation?
I think within one race they'll realise that 'actually, this wasn't quite what we were told.' The media portrayal was nonsense, and the team concerned will of course be working with us to ensure that any misunderstandings in terms of public persona are put right.
There have been a lot of questions surrounding the legitimacy of Rich Energy and its financial position. What would you say to those who are skeptical?
Well, none of my detractors have ever met me. There are many people who know the facts and ultimately, we feel no need to comment on things that are not true. Judge us on the results.
We are winning motorsport championships, very prestigious ones, as a title partner of multiple teams. What we did with Formula 1 was enter the biggest motorsport series first, so that's why we rose very quickly. But instead of seeing us as a clever group of entrepreneurial people who've managed to scale up very quickly, they thought there was something amiss.
One of the most common criticisms fans made at the time was that they had never seen a can of Rich Energy in person. Do you expect this to change?
Definitely, we will be revving up millions of customers, and we have a brilliant distribution team. One of the issues we had was that we grew so quickly that we didn't necessarily have the distribution team or infrastructure to scale up in a conventional sense. We probably ran before we could walk a little bit.
We now have a brilliant team of people in all areas from infrastructure, logistics, shipping, and retail. I am a hundred percent certain that Rich Energy will be widely available for most people to buy. When people try Rich Energy, and I agree that we have been quite elusive to date, they will find that it looks better, tastes better, and has better performance than our competition.
I would like to thank William Storey for sitting down with me on behalf of Divebomb and providing an interesting insight into Rich Energy’s past and future in motorsport. We will look forward to updates on their involvement with Formula 1, in particular, within the next year.