Sponsorship in Formula 1 is going through a funny phase right now. While blue-chip brands and big names such as Shell or Heineken remain heavily involved, plenty of new, more niche names are also joining the sport.

Huski Chocolate, SportPesa and ROKiT are just three of the more obscure names looking to boost their profile after becoming major sponsors at McLaren, Racing Point and Williams respectively, the latter two taking title partnerships to prove the concept is still alive and kicking.

But the biggest sponsor story in F1 over the past year or so has been that of Rich Energy, the enigmatic, unashamedly brash energy drink brand that has made a splash in motorsport – for better or for worse.

Rich Energy first appeared on the radar amid the uncertainty faced by Force India across the course of last summer, with the brand’s CEO William Storey claiming he was attempting to purchase the team through a financial rescue package.

Force India was ultimately saved by the Racing Point consortium led by Lawrence Stroll, prompting an angry response from Storey after his bid had fallen short - but he vowed the brand would take up some involvement in F1 sooner or later.

The stars looked aligned for Rich Energy to link up with Williams when Storey drew close to the team across the course of the United States Grand Prix at the end of October, accompanying deputy team boss Claire Williams on the grid and spending much of the weekend in talks over an agreement.

It therefore came as a surprise when, just a few days later, Haas announced that Rich Energy would become its title sponsor for the 2019 season, with the team incorporating the brand name into its official entry - Rich Energy Haas F1 Team - and adopting its black and gold colours for its identity. While there was some early scepticism, Haas stressed there were zero concerns about the deal from its side.

Storey was present for the team’s official season launch in London where he claimed the target was to be beating rival energy drink brand Red Bull both on- and off-track – which was soon followed by the use of the hashtag ‘#betterthanredbull’ on Rich Energy’s social media account, causing the phrase to enter F1's lexicon.

Rich Energy’s social media exploits – seemingly led solely by Storey – were where much of the real concern regarding its involvement and credibility was stemming from. A deep dive into the history of the company offered little to back up its big claims, even if there was clear evidence of links to West Ham United owners David Gold and David Sullivan (Rich Energy is the sponsor of the club’s female team), and the lack of coherence on social media did little to silence its doubters.

More information started to come out courtesy of a legal battle between Rich Energy and a Sussex-based bicycle company, Whyte Bikes, over the intellectual property of its logo. Storey was adamant in his claims the stag logo used by Rich Energy had not been copied, even when the High Court ruled against him with a damning assessment of the company’s position on the matter. An appeal also fell short, with Rich Energy being ordered to cover Whyte Bikes costs and declare accurate information regarding its production and output. The deadline to do so was set as July 13 – or this Saturday.

The latest twist arrived a few days earlier than said deadline when on Wednesday, out of the blue, the Rich Energy Twitter account announced the sponsorship deal with Haas had been terminated after just nine races due to “poor performance”. “We aim to beat Red Bull Racing and being behind Williams in Austria is unacceptable,” the tweet added, before taking aim at the “politics and PC attitude in F1” that was “inhibiting” the business.

The tweet came as much of a surprise to Haas as it did to the rest of the F1 community. The team did not immediately issue a response, only confirming the morning after that Rich Energy remained the title sponsor for the team heading into the British Grand Prix weekend. Even team boss Gunther Steiner, known for being one of the most open and frank figures in F1, had to stay coy: “When I speak, I speak; when I cannot, I don’t speak. There’s no point to go into a war of words about something. It doesn’t even upset me. It’s just something I need to deal with next week.”

The rationale behind Rich Energy’s tweet soon came into question, especially when no further details were forthcoming from the company. Storey gave brief comment to The Sun, using the word “milkfloat” when talking about Haas’s pace after one of the team’s cars had finished behind a Williams in Austria due to its ongoing tyre woes – yet Kevin Magnussen had qualified fifth, beating one of the Red Bulls and narrowly missing out on a place on the second row of the grid. Suggestions of poor performance for a minnow outfit like Haas given its better-funded and better-resourced opposition seemed fanciful.

Storey’s interview with The Sun appeared to kill off a suggestion the Rich Energy Twitter account had been compromised, only for the company’s shareholders to late confirm that it had been – by, of all people, William Storey.

In a statement issued via Haas, Rich Energy's shareholders underlined its commitment to the team and the sponsorship agreement. They claimed the “rogue actions of one individual have caused great embarrassment” for Rich Energy, adding: “They may speak for themselves, but their views are not those of the company.” Clearly, there had been some falling out between Storey and the shareholders.

Remarkably though, Storey still had – and, it seems, has – access to the Twitter account. Another tweet was put out on Thursday night following the shareholders’ comments (complete with a picture of Storey) in which he was quoted calling their statement “ludicrous”, accusing the minority shareholders in the company of attempting a “palace coup”. “I control all of the assets of Rich Energy and have support of all key stakeholders.”

And Storey’s claim appeared to be given support in a letter posted to the brand’s Twitter account on Friday afternoon. In it, Jeremy Courtenay-Stamp, head of legal practice at The Ebury Partnership, writes to one of the company’s shareholders on behalf of Haas informing them of the team’s position on the conflict with Storey, and acknowledges uncertainty as to how it can take control of the company away from Storey. There is also a final line in which concern is raised about the “solvency/ongoing viability of the company” given its failure to pay up the damages to Whyte Bikes ahead of Saturday’s deadline.

Rich Energy now appears to be in a state of stand-off. Storey remains the CEO and claims to retain majority control (and he has the keys to the Twitter account); the shareholders siding with Haas claim they have majority control and that Storey has gone rogue; and the damages to Whyte Bikes is still unpaid, which, if not resolved, could lead to a winding-up petition.

And all the while, Haas is left with this sideline annoyance it really could do without. Its race pace struggles have caused it to drop all the way down to P9 in the constructors’ championship, and while it desperately tries to resolve them and unlock the certain potential in the VF-19 car, its midfield rivals continue to skip away.

The Rich Energy saga has hit new heights at Silverstone – but it may not even have peaked yet…

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