While F1 has had plenty of sponsors over the years such as the infamous Marlboro and Vodafone, it has had plenty that have been so controversial the sport has either been boycotted or embroiled in legal trouble.
1. The time Onyx was sponsored by a Ponzi scheme
In 1989, the sport was awash with new teams all vying for a place on the grid. One of these teams was British team Onyx who, while mildly successful, are most famous for their infamous sponsor Money Tron. This was a Ponzi scheme set up by Belgian stock market guru Jean-Pierre Van Rossem (who looks like a part-time wizard). The idea was that his company would offer endless returns and even had the royal family of Belgium involved.
However, while Onyx themselves were 10th in 1989, the sponsorship didn’t go well with at one point Van Rossem announced the team’s new Porsche V12 engine deal on Belgian television prior to the initial announcement. This lead the deal to be cancelled and later that night he made the news again, as he’d driven his Porsche to town square and set fire to it.
The controversy didn’t end here as he in the same season was reported to be calling F1 CEO of the time Bernie Ecclestone “a Mafia Boss” and the FIA president Jean Marie Balestre a “Nazi.”
The moneytron deal was ended in 1990 and Onyx went bust that same year.
However, Moneytron itself went bust and all of Van Rossen’s assets would be sold to pay off debts and even Jean-Pierre printed fake shares which led to him being sentenced to five years in prison for fraud in 1991.
2. The infamous Haas-Rich Energy partnership
Haas up until 2019 had a reputation for being a team that ran quality cars built from rummaging around suppliers spare parts bins. However, this reputation was trashed with the launch of the VF-18 while the car was horrible at tyre preservation and overall pace. The worse thing was their sponsor Rich Energy who were set up by the original Evil Santa William Storey.
There were two issues with this sponsorship – firstly no one could ever find Rich Energy drinks in any store or online which led fans to be suspicious and the let’s say slightly deranged Twitter behaviour for example he once tweeted via the official Rich Energy account that the car was a milk float and tweeted that the sponsorship deal was cancelled when it wasn’t.
The deal was officially called off before the end of the season as Haas ended the title sponsorship after Storey was forced out of Rich Energy in a public fallout with the other shareholders as well as Rich Energy being embroiled in a legal case over its logo being copied from a bike manufacturer called Whyte Bikes.
UralKali arrived in Formula One to much controversy in 2021. They came in as a big budget sponsor in order to help Haas who were struggling at the time. The biggest controversy was that due to this sponsorship Nikita Mazepin was signed to the team. While this may seem normal the issue here was that Nikita was the son of the sponsors owner Dmitry. This irritated fans as it led to the sacking of Kevin Magnussen and the fact that Nikita never finished in the points and was regularly the slowest driver on the grid.
The court case in this situation stems from Nikita and UralKali being fired from the team due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Post this Uralkali asked for a refund of the $12 million it had paid Haas via the courts. This was rejected by Haas and is still unresolved at the time of writing.
FTX arrived in F1 to much fan fare as it was heralded as one of the biggest crypto platforms to exist at the time of its arrival. The team became a major sponsor of Mercedes in late 2021 to much fanfare and began to spend millions on major events such as the off the grid activation event it held at the Miami Grand Prix in 2022.
However by the week of the Brazilian Grand prix, FTX went bust due to a run on the company’s investments and money and a buyout failure from rivals Binance.
The court case here was the much reported Subpoena of the FTX Founder Sam Bankman-Fried over fraud claims in the events leading to the bankruptcy.
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