Editors note: This was written ahead of the German Grand Prix in July 2019, but has been updated since to reflect the nature of Haas and Rich Energy's split later that year.
Haas and Rich Energy's title partnership was supposed to be for multiple seasons but it ended prematurely after a bizarre sequence of events during the 2019 season.
The saga featured numerous twists and turns -- most notably the removal of Rich Energy's former CEO, the eccentric William Storey, from his position. Here's how the episode unfolded.
Who are Rich Energy?
Rich Energy was an energy drinks company that operated out of Richmond, in London. The company's origins and its actual product are shrouded in mystery -- despite being stocked in the Haas motorhome this year and being shown arriving in shipments on various Twitter posts, it is difficult to find any supermarket or outlet that actually sells the black and gold cans.
Even more mystery surrounds the company's finances, as reported in great depth by Jalopnik. It has links with Premier League club West Ham and one of its owners, David Sullivan, who reportedly bought a share of the company in 2018. The extent of his involvement in the company is unknown.
Financial documents showed Rich Energy's bank balance to have risen from £103 ($134) in 2016 to £581 ($770) in 2017, hardly the stuff of a prospective F1 team owner or title sponsor. The company claims there has been significant growth since then -- the more recent accounts from its time as an F1 sponsor have yet to be filed, meaning it is hard to accurately prove or disprove that claim.
Questions over its legitimacy have dogged the company for a while. At the launch of Haas' car in January, Storey (more on him later) said that claiming Rich Energy wasn't real "is like saying man never walked on the moon, or Elvis is still alive."
Shortly after announcing the deal, Haas insisted it had no doubts about the company.
"Your due diligence you don't do with the person there, there's some other ways to do that," team boss Guenther Steiner said in October 2018. "We did what we need to do. We needed to do it before we met him. Why do you doubt that?
"Obviously we did what we needed to do, and our legal advisers were content with that."
What is its involvement in motor racing?
The tie-up with Haas wasn't the first time Rich Energy's name was associated with motor racing. The company first made waves in F1 circles midway through last year when the Force India team went into administration. It claimed to have made an offer to save the team despite being almost unknown in the industry up to that point.
CEO Storey was not seen to be a viable long-term owner of the team and the company's offer was dismissed, prompting the team to be placed in administration. It was duly saved from that process by a consortium led by Lance Stroll and repackaged as Racing Point, the guise it has continued with in 2019.
Storey then changed his approach from owning a team to securing a title sponsorship deal with one.
He turned his attention to the Williams team during the U.S. Grand Prix weekend in October but then suddenly agreed a deal with Haas -- something which appeared to catch Williams as much by surprise as anyone else. It is understood Claire Williams and several senior team members were left waiting for Storey at an Austin restaurant on the evening of the race to finalise the terms of their deal. He never showed up, and a few days later the Haas partnership was announced. It has never been clear how much of this Haas was aware of at the time.
Williams duly went on to secure Rokit as its title sponsorship for 2019 -- it is likely no coincidence Claire Williams said that partnership was based on shared values of "innovation, engineering excellence and trust."
Rich Energy went on to sponsor Jordan King at the 2019 Indy 500. King's father, Justin, joined the Rich Energy board of directors in April, a month before the race.
What did Haas do with the sponsorship?
The title sponsorship deal marked a dramatic change in Gene Haas' approach to Formula One.
The American was a businessman before he was a racer, having made the bulk of his fortune through Haas Automation, his machine tool company. Since joining the F1 grid in 2016 the team had operated with red and grey colours of that company -- Haas had repeatedly made clear his main aim in F1 was to promote his company. His NASCAR team has followed a similar policy.
With Rich Energy on board, that changed his approach to the F1 team. The Haas Automation colours were dropped in favour of Rich Energy's black and gold, which is the theme of its 2019 car livery, although Haas remained the most prominent name on the car.
The aloof Storey used the launch event to declare his ambition to beat energy drinks industry leader Red Bull "on and off the track." While there were suspicions and some bizarre behaviour -- the company's Twitter account declared itself to be #BetterThanRedBull after finishing the first day of testing ahead of the Red Bull team -- there appeared to be nothing wrong with the deal when the season started in Australia.
The first sign of any trouble came a few months into the season when a British company called Whyte Bikes launched legal proceedings against Rich Energy.
What happened with Whyte Bikes?
Whyte Bikes took Rich Energy to court, claiming the energy drink's logo was an unauthorised copy of its own stag-based logo. Storey argued Rich Energy's logo was inspired by the deer that inhabit London's Richmond Park, but to the untrained eye it looked strikingly similar to that of Whyte Bikes.
A judge agreed and gave Storey an unflattering appraisal in her judgement.
"I found both Mr Storey and Mr Kelly [Storey's friend and logo designer] to be poor witnesses," Judge Melissa Clarke wrote. "Mr Storey provided different and inconsistent accounts of the development of [the Rich Energy logo], which also conflicted to a large extent with the evidence of Mr Kelly.
"He often did not answer questions directly, preferring to make speeches about his vision for his business or alternatively seeking to evade questions by speaking in generalities or in the third person plural. He only answered several questions when I intervened. He had a tendency to make impressive statements, which on further investigation or consideration were not quite what they seemed."
The court case also included Storey clarifying his original assessment that Rich Energy had produced 90 million cans -- he said these had not been filled or sold at that point. Instead, he estimated the company had sold a more modest three million cans in 2018.
Judge Clark dismissed Storey and his friend Sean Kelly as unreliable witnesses and said Rich Energy could not use the stag logo after July 18 -- that part of the sponsorship was removed from Haas' car in time for the Canadian Grand Prix, although the team's name remained on the side of the car. Rich Energy was ordered to cover Whyte Bikes and controlling company ATB Sales' legal costs, totaling £35,416, by July 11. Whyte Bikes released a statement on that date saying that payment had not been made and that it was considering taking further legal action.
It seemed like much of this saga would be resolved in the courts and in the privacy of company boardrooms until a tweet on the eve of the British Grand Prix.
What was the tweet?
On the Wednesday before Silverstone, Rich Energy's official Twitter account claimed Rich Energy had terminated its Haas deal, effective immediately, citing Haas' poor on-track performances. Speaking to the Sun newspaper, Storey likened Haas' car to a "milk float" -- a remarkable quote from a man who at that point was CEO of a company Haas insisted was still its title sponsor.
It soon became clear an internal struggle was taking place within the Rich Energy company, with Haas soon releasing a statement on behalf of the company's shareholders who were trying to wrestle control from Storey. In it, they dismissed his tweet as the actions of a "rogue individual."
Storey appeared to have sole control of the company's Twitter account throughout the weekend and continued tweeting bizarre statements. During the grand prix, shortly after both Haas cars retired after an early collision, the account posted a picture of a milk float, painted black and gold, with Storey crudely photoshopped at the wheel.
He used another tweet to claim the other shareholders had unsuccessfully tried to oust him in a "palace coup."
Haas remained tight-lipped on the subject for much of the weekend, saying it hoped a solution could be found to allow the sponsorship deal to continue. Team boss Steiner insisted Haas' reputation had not been damaged by the saga, saying: "What have we done wrong? How can you damage something if we don't do anything wrong?"
What happened after Silverstone?
The issue came to a head the day after the British Grand Prix, when documents filed with the U.K.'s Companies House revealed Storey was no longer associated with the company and its name had changed from Rich Energy to Lightning Volt. The following day, Storey announced via the Rich Energy Twitter account that he had sold his majority stake in the company "in disgust at conduct of duplicitous minority stakeholders".
In September, Haas confirmed it has prematurely cut all ties with Rich Energy. It refused to go into too much detail about what had happened in the months after the British Grand Prix.
The team continued with its black and gold livery until the end of the season, but reverted back to the red, white and black colours of Gene Haas' company Haas Automation for the 2020 campaign.