MANOR RE­BORN

He shook up the en­ergy in­dus­try, now Stephen Fitz­patrick has re­alised his dream of own­ing an F1 team

F1 Racing - - MEET STEPHEN FITZPATRICK -

WORDS POR­TRAIT

JAMES ROBERTS JAMES EDENBOROUGH

“They had the low­est bud­get, yet had proven they could out­per­form their ri­vals. It felt ironic that hav­ing made it through ve hard years in F1, they had nally made ninth place in the con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onship [thanks to Jules Bianchi’s two points from the 2014 Monaco GP], had reached the rst rung of nan­cial sus­tain­abil­ity and were due to re­ceive prize fund money. And that’s the mo­ment they had run out of steam – right at the last hur­dle. One thing that mo­ti­vated me was to help this team cling to sur­vival.”

Fitz­patrick spoke to Marus­sia’s pres­i­dent and sport­ing direc­tor Graeme Low­don and they had frank dis­cus­sions about how to keep the team aoat. Cru­cially, they had to re-es­tab­lish cred­i­bil­ity with key sup­pli­ers, such as Fer­rari and McLaren, and agree new terms with the 200 or so smaller cred­i­tors. Fitz­patrick then sent an email to Justin King, for­mer CEO of Sains­bury’s and a man of­ten touted as a po­ten­tial suc­ces­sor to Bernie Ec­cle­stone (King also has a son, Jor­dan, who is rac­ing in GP2 this year), ask­ing if he wanted to go halves on a For­mula 1 team.

“Justin is a huge F1 fan and I asked him to be­come in­volved in an ad­vi­sory ca­pac­ity to help me nav­i­gate some of the ter­ri­tory in both mo­tor rac­ing and busi­ness is­sues,” says Fitz­patrick. “This is the rst com­pany I’ve ever bought. I started OVO from scratch and built it or­gan­i­cally. So there have been a lot of chal­lenges, and although Justin turned down the of­fer to buy half of the team with me, he has taken up the role of in­terim chair­man to help me with the process.”

King left Sains­bury’s last sum­mer and has said pub­licly that he has an­other “big job” left in him, but while there are no shoes to ll at the helm of For­mula 1 yet, he’s stated that run­ning Manor isn’t the job for him ei­ther. So Fitz­patrick is the main in­vestor but don’t ex­pect to see OVO En­ergy as a ti­tle spon­sor of the team – it’s his own per­sonal money he’s putting into Manor. He laughs when he hears the old adage: if you want to make a small for­tune in F1, start with a large one.

“While there has been per­sonal fund­ing from me so far, the idea is not for this to be the black hole of the Fitz­patrick fam­ily nances, as I don’t want to be down­siz­ing my house in three years time,” he says. “For the rst time ever, the team will be en­ti­tled to prize fund money that will cover half the bud­get (ex­pected to be £60mil­lion this year) and driv­ers will bring spon­sors to the car.

“Our en­ergy busi­ness op­er­ates to very ne mar­gins and un­der­stand­ing where ev­ery penny goes is im­por­tant. That’s the kind of scru­tiny I’ve had with this busi­ness as it’s im­por­tant to be dis­ci­plined to re­tain nan­cial sus­tain­abil­ity. If it was an­other kind of busi­ness, then it would be prob­a­bly be more trou­ble than it’s worth, but as a huge fan of F1, I wanted to make it work.”

The re­vived team had a tough start to 2015. Both Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi’s cars, made it to the sea­son-opener in Australia, but nei­ther ran be­cause of a soft­ware prob­lem (the team’s com­put­ers had been wiped by ad­min­is­tra­tors in an­tic­i­pa­tion of be­ing sold), and only Merhi ran in Malaysia, due to a fuel-sys­tem prob­lem on Stevens’ car. It was a tough start, but Fitz­patrick hopes the team will be bat­tling with the rest of the eld soon.

“It was fun watch­ing the Sin­ga­pore GP last year,” con­tin­ues Fitz­patrick. “But stand­ing on the out­side look­ing in is frus­trat­ing. I’ve al­ways had a love of F1 and I’ve al­ways wanted to own an F1 team. I just didn’t ex­pect it to hap­pen in 2015…”

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