As race weekends go for Haas, it has been a pretty strange one. And for once, that has nothing to do with tire usage or car pace.
There is that too, with both cars colliding on the opening lap of the race and being forced to retire, but that still managed to take a back seat to the drama whirling around the team’s title sponsor.
Rich Energy has been an interesting new addition to the Formula 1 paddock, with CEO William Storey making a number of bold claims about trying to beat Red Bull from the moment the 2019 livery was unveiled pre-season. If you don’t have high aims, what do you have?
But over time, some of Storey’s outlandish statements started to become a bit tiresome, as did the need to take swipes at Red Bull Racing on the few opportunities that Haas provided by out-qualifying one of its cars.
Sometimes the establishment needs a bit of shaking up, and there’s nothing wrong with rattling a few cages. But the Rich Energy approach was not really going down very well, and it turned out that was the case internally as well as externally.
So what led to the bizarre events of the past five days?
Well, behind closed doors, a number of Rich Energy shareholders claimed to have tired of Storey’s style and moved to remove him as CEO of the company. One of those shareholders – Neville Weston – was present at Silverstone to meet with Haas and give another side of the story to the one playing out on social media.
“There are other investors, shareholders and creditors to that company,” Weston told RACER. “He is not the majority owner of that company. We were in the process of stepping in as shareholders to take better control of the company; we weren’t very happy with how things were being managed, handled, and financial reporting – things that William and the other director were personally responsible for.
“Things weren’t being done to the standards they should have been, so we started to step in. We were working amicably with William to say ‘look, you need to move out, you’re not doing this well, you’re not doing that well’.
“He was playing ball. We were on a shareholder call on Wednesday, he didn’t show up on the call to discuss these items and then during the call sent out this thing saying ‘I’m terminating the Haas contract’.
“We knew straight away that was him going rogue, so we then had to deal with that situation.”
The claim was made via Twitter, and stated the reason behind the termination was poor performance from the team in Austria two weeks ago. On that occasion, Magnussen had qualified a solid fifth on the grid – starting 10th due to a gearbox penalty – but limped home 19th behind George Russell. Grosjean fared little better, and finished 16th.
The following day, a statement from the majority shareholders was released through the Haas media channels – because the Rich Energy passwords had been changed – that refuted the claim and confirmed the company’s commitment to Haas.
“He hasn’t started the process of terminating the deal,” Weston insists, despite a letter dated July 11 reportedly showing Haas is claiming £35million ($44m) within 14 days in order to allow the termination. “There has been no termination of that deal at all. Nothing’s changed. I think he tried to claim it was performance in the race – there is nothing in the contract that says anything about performance in races, it’s lunacy!”
The back and forth didn’t end there though, as Storey was quoted on the official Twitter account as accusing the shareholders of working with his main target Red Bull and Whyte Bikes – the UK-based company that successfully took legal action against Rich Energy for copyright infringement relating to its logo.
Soon after, Storey tweeted a letter addressed to Weston that said Haas would be willing to engage in conversations with him once he could provide “clear and unambiguous evidence that Mr Storey has been removed as a director of the company and that a new CEO has been validly appointed in his place”.
The next tweet claimed Storey had chaired a board meeting and in response to shareholder’s attempts to remove him “the exclusive rights to distribute (Rich Energy) have been transferred to another company”. There was no public response from the shareholders – who include former Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King, father of IndyCar driver Jordan – as the comments were dismissed without concern.
“You’re tweeting something that you say you’re doing that’s illegal…” Weston said. “These are company assets, you don’t have the assets to it. If you were trying to do that you are just basically admitting to doing something that’s illegal.
“There’s facts and there’s what he says. I want to be really clear, until we get an injunction or get him shut out of those social media accounts that he’s set up and has the passwords to, he’s probably going to keep doing this stuff for a while, and they are not the views of Rich Energy and the majority shareholders, which is why we made that statement.”
For Haas, it has been embarrassing, but it’s a matter that is out of the team’s hands. The main significance is whether payments will be made to honor the existing contract, or if the volatility within Rich will derail that.
“If he carries on doing it for months and months it’s going to cause problems, but the Haas guys are professionals,” Weston said. “They know what’s going on, they know it’s just one person and they’ve been great with us. Thankfully I’ve been here a few times and know a few guys and Guenther, and they’ve just been great.
“They just want to run a race team. They don’t need this. It’s embarrassing. We’re representing a company causing these media issues but they’ve been great and we thank them. They’ve been a class act is the only way I can describe it. Including Gene who just says ‘I get it, sort it out’.
“We’ve got to make the company perform better so it’s a business risk, but there’s plenty of interest and we’re handling that. This is a long-term arrangement as well, we’re only six months into the contract. It started really well and then it went a bit wobbly but we’ve just got to get it back on track.”
While Haas is forced to deal with the unwanted attention that comes with the circus surrounding its title sponsor, Weston insists nothing has or will change in relation to the team’s deal.
“Unfortunately he still had access to the Twitter accounts etc, so it takes a little while to get him locked out of that, and then he started coming out with sheer nonsense. As you can see, it’s not cancelled, we are still on the side of the car, I am sat here today in a very amicable relationship with Haas which will be continuing.
“All that’s happened is we took steps to remove a CEO who didn’t like it and has gone nuts.”