He’s the fledgling energy drink CEO with gigantic ambitions. Rich Energy CEO William Storey says that he and his consortium of American-based backers have put in an offer to buy Sahara Force India Formula One Team, despite the fact that team principal Vijay Mallya has refuted it’s even for sale.
"The finance of Force India, whether I'm selling or not selling, has been a matter of speculation on and off for many years,” Mallya told Autosport in May, pouring cold water on rumours of the squad’s sale, following an announcement the 62-year-old would step down as a director of the team to focus on his fight against an extradition request to face charges in India of fraud and money laundering.
Despite that, Storey says his offer for the squad – a rumoured £100 million pound deal, with an eight figure sum set to be additionally invested – is on the cusp of being accepted.
“We have made an official offer. It’s been in the hands of the lawyers for the last few months. I’m informed that we’re very close now, which is great news,” Storey exclusively told The Inside Line.
There's no doubt that it’s an ambitious plan for a growing energy drink brand, one dwarfed when compared with market leader Red Bull, but you may be surprised to learn the product is already widely distributed.
“We’ve actually been working on this [brand for] four or five years,” says the Brit, with Rich Energy based in Richmond, near London.
“The drink was in development for six years. But in terms of the launch, which obviously commenced in the UK, that’s about three years ago. We’ve grown very quickly because we had the right infrastructure.
"But fundamentally we are a superior version of Red Bull. And I say that not to be disingenuous. We’re made with high-quality ingredients, pure mineral water. We taste better, and we feel we’ve created a really good brand as well. We’ve got a great business model. Right now, we’re sold in 29 countries. And distribution is growing very significantly.”
But jumping straight into F1 team ownership is a big step. Most, even Red Bull, preferring to take the sponsorship route first – either with traditional bridge and board deals with the sport, or via the teams – before choosing to up the ante.
Storey, though, says the two are not mutually exclusive.
“We can do trackside advertising within Formula 1, and we fully intend to do that. As we do already in other areas of motorsport. And that’s growing,” he says.
“But the opportunity to buy a team was there. We feel that opportunity may not be around in the future, and it gives us a real opportunity to really cement a position within Formula 1 that isn’t at the behest of a team. And I feel that being the owner of a team and therefore, by definition, title sponsor as well, really maximises the media value that we’re going to get.
“We’re not traditional investors who are buying an asset to effectively appreciate or to invest in. We’re buying this because it’s a perfect platform for our brand, we’re growing very quickly around the world now, and we think Formula 1 will be a wonderful platform for Rich Energy.
But what about Storey’s vision for the team?
“We aim to bring some new corporate partners into the sport,” he says.
"We feel that there are elements of Formula 1 that can be maximised better with economies of scale. I wouldn't say the sport is in a trough but it's perhaps got a little bit stale.
“We’ve got a lot of friendly companies that we work with that want to get involved as well. So in other words, additional sponsorship revenue, increased investment into the technical side of the team so there aren’t any bottlenecks, for example, on aerodynamic development that may or may not have been an issue this season and to ensure the team has great relationships with suppliers. And just pushing on and creating less stress in the workforce and boosting with technical partners and commercial revenues.”
And while significant investment is needed, Storey says the bones of the team are strong.
“Their performance per pound is probably as good as you’re going to get in the pit lane. I actually think the current owners have presided over some tremendous success for the last 10 years and I think their off-track travails are slightly unfortunate, obviously we can’t really comment on those things, but ultimately we think this is a great team. It’s got some great personnel, great mechanics, great engineers and a great race team, so we want to build upon the great work they’ve already done.”
For now, Storey is talking a good game. But until we hear an announcement from the squad, all it remains is an energetic bid to buy one of Formula 1’s most efficient racers, one known for performance on a shoestring budget.
Listen to the full & exclusive interview with Rich Energy CEO William Storey here: