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