Earlier in the year, we reported on a court case involving Whyte Bikes and Rich Energy
, a new energy drinks company that had apparently copied the British bike brand's logo. The saga was made all the more interesting by the fact that Rich Energy sponsored a Formula 1 team, Haas F1, and had the logo plastered all over its car. The court awarded in favor of Whyte bikes and we thought that would be that. How wrong we were.
The saga soon descended into soap-opera farce as the spat played out across social media and ended in the demise of Rich Energy. Here's everything you need to know about one of the most bizarre mountain biking stories of the decade.What is Rich Energy?
Rich Energy is an energy drinks brand, based in Richmond, London. It describes itself as an "elite" energy drink for "the discerning customer". From the outset, it was clear that it had its eyes set on a very specific goal, toppling Red Bull as the most prominent energy drink on the market. Even its slogan, "forget the wings, Rich Energy gives you horns", was aimed at the Austrian brand.
There was just one problem: Nobody could find it anywhere to buy. Despite Rich Energy's CEO William Storey claiming the brand was distributed in 40 countries with 100 million cans sold, it's very hard to track down a brick and mortar shop with a can for sale.
Rich Energy first gained attention in Formula 1 when it tried to save the ailing Force India Formula 1 team with two £15 million installments. The offer was rejected and Force India put into administration despite Rich Energy's owner, William Storey, claiming he was backed by "four sterling billionaires." Next, Storey tried to court the Williams F1 team before finally finding his way into the sport via Haas F1. Rich Energy became a title sponsor of the American team for an undisclosed, but likely not inconsiderable, sum.
It wasn't long before curious fans started digging into the company's filing history. They found that Rich Energy reported having £581(about $770 USD) in the bank in 2017, up from £103 ($134 USD) the year before. So how did they fund the sponsorship of a Formula 1 team? Well, the company claim they have had significant growth since then, including gaining the backing of David Sullivan, the owner of West Ham football club who made his money in soft-core pornography, who reportedly bought a share of the company in 2018. If you want to know more about the funding questions surrounding the brand, there's a great investigation from Jalopnik here
Whyte Bikes first became aware of Rich Energy and their logo in the summer of 2017 but the issue came to a head at The Cycle Show at the NEC in Birmingham when a number of visitors came up to Whyte and asked them about it. When Whyte issued a cease and desist on October 11 of that year, Rich Energy came back through their lawyers and the legal proceedings began.The copyright case
The case was brought before the UK High Court and the judgment was passed in favor of Whyte Bikes on May 14, 2019, as we reported here
. The key thing from the case is that William Storey, the CEO of Rich Energy came out of it very badly.
Judge Melissa Clarke described him as a "poor witness" and wrote. "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." She called him a liar and concluded that some of Storey's evidence was "incorrect or misleading" and that he was involved in "the manufacture of documents during the course of litigation to provide additional support for the Defendants’ case." Matters were adjourned until a hearing on June 27, when the sanctions would be decided.The aftermath of the copyright case
In the aftermath of the court case, Whyte released a press release that included gleeful phrases such as, "‘We only use the finest ingredients. Unfortunately, until now, those ingredients have included an unauthorized copy of the Whyte Bikes’ Stag’s Head Logo."
The taunting continued as Whyte Bikes held their 2020 dealer launch at Mercedes HQ and posted a picture of their logo next to the Mercedes F1 car. Rich Energy was quick to respond by saying, "Looks like the logo we own around the world. Not as good but similar." on Instagram and "Enjoy the free PR while you can guys. Those with an IQ higher than their age realise you are Mickey Mouse. Oh, how we will laugh in due course. We are actually investing money in F1 whilst you are investing zero. Total parasites who knew about us for two years before piping up."
This accusation seemed a bit hollow as just a few days earlier Whyte had posted pictures of Romain Grosjean, a current racer for Haas, riding one of their bikes in 2014 while another Twitter user dug up an old Tweet announcing Whyte's sponsorship of the Lotus Junior F1 team, a development program that races in lower-ranking motorsport events such as Formula Renault and Formula E with the aim of developing young, talented drivers. All of this is forgetting that the founder of Whyte, Jon Whyte, was the head suspension engineer for Michael Schumacher and the Benetton team that claimed the Driver's World Championship in 1994.Rich Energy and Haas
Then the real circus began. Haas continued to run the Whyte logo for the Monaco Grand Prix, a week after the court case, but by the time the Canadian Grand Prix rolled around two weeks later on June 9, the logo had gone and instead only the brand name remained on the Haas cars. A Tweet from Rich Energy claimed they had asked the team to remove the logo to avoid the "any media circus... whilst we contest baseless case with Whyte Bikes and win." The logo has not reappeared on the cars since.The Court Orders
On July 2, the court orders were announced from the copyright case. The punishment for Rich Energy was as follows:
- Rich Energy had to remove the offending logo from all products and merchandise from July 18
- All remaining products or merchandise containing the logo must be delivered to Whyte Bikes or destroyed by August 1
- Rich Energy to pay costs of £35,416 to Whyte Bikes within 14 days.
- Rich Energy has been ordered to disclose to Whyte Bikes the total UK and global sales to date of cans of Rich Energy featuring the logo, as well as the total sums received from these sales.
We've spoken to Whyte this week and confirmed that the damages have still not been paid. We understand they are now seeking to have Rich Energy wound up to recover the money through liquidation and the sale of assets. They said: "[Whyte] will now be forced to take appropriate action to recover the costs that they have been awarded. This may include applications to the Court to wind up both Rich Energy and Staxoweb and to petition for the bankruptcy of Mr. Storey."The Demise of Rich Energy
In the week leading up to the British Grand Prix, Rich Energy announced it would no longer sponsor the Haas energy team. They did so via a Tweet, citing "poor performance" and politics. They said: "We aim to beat Red Bull Racing and being behind Williams Racing in Austria is unacceptable. The politics and PC attitude in F1 is also inhibiting our business. We wish the team well."
Just a day later, Haas denied the partnership was over, with Gunther Steiner, Team Principal, saying: “Rich Energy is currently the title partner of Haas F1 Team. I cannot comment further on the contractual relationship between our two parties due to commercial confidentiality.”
Then, even stranger, Rich Energy released a second statement on a subsidiary account (that has now been deleted), claiming the original Tweet was posted by a rougue individual and that the sponsorship of Haas was still going ahead. It read, "We wholeheartedly believe in the Haas F1 Team, its performance, and the organisation as a whole and we are fully committed to the current sponsorship agreement in place. We also completely believe in the product of Formula 1 and the platform it offers our brand.
Clearly, the rogue actions of one individual have caused great embarrassment. We are in the process of legally removing the individual from all executive responsibilities. They may speak for themselves but their views are not those of the company. The incident is very regrettable; we will not be making further comment on this commercially sensitive matter and will be concluding it behind closed doors.”
It looks like an internal struggle between Storey and the rest of the shareholders for control of Rich Energy had begun with Storey controlling the Twitter account and public face of the company and shareholders behind the scenes trying to oust him. Later that day, Storey described the actions of the shareholders as a "coup" and attempted to re-assert himself as still a vital part of the company.
Storey then spent the weekend of the Silverstone Grand Prix taunting the Haas F1 team on social media as his pit pass had reportedly been revoked at this point. He first Tweeted his amusement that Haas was still running the Rich Energy livery:
And then compared the Haas car to a milk float when its drivers, Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, crashed into each other on the first lap.[Failed to load Instagram embed]
The day after the Silverstone Grand Prix, a flurry of documents appeared on the British Companies House website that showed Storey ousted from the company as well as an address change from Richmond to Central London and a new name for the company - Lightning Volt Energy. One thing to note is the hurried change of address that omits BDG Group, an unlicensed insolvency practitioner, from the public record.
Whyte's last laugh
Note: Change of address twice in one day - fourth row from bottom and second from top.
So it looks like a two-year ordeal is almost finished for Whyte. They were the unlucky brand that William Storey allegedly spotted when he strolled into a local bike shop a few years ago and since then they've been to the High Court, spent a small fortune on legal costs, and in that time only ever seen one pallet of actual cans of Rich Energy. The case is unfortunately likely to lose them money as it seems unlikely that their costs will be paid at this point (and even if they are, costs are capped in the UK and often don't represent the true cost of the trial). They have received a wave of support from both the F1 and mountain bike communities that they will hopefully be able to capitalize on in future.
The most recent support came from Rick Parfitt Jr, the son of the guitarist of British rock band Status Quo
. He races for the JRM Bentley Continental GT 3 team that also used to be sponsored by Rich Energy. He now runs the Whyte logo and name in the same spot the Rich Energy sponsorship was free of charge. Speaking to Whyte, this wasn't about money or publicity, though, simply standing up to a bully who tried to roll them over.
Next up for Whyte is the release of the financial documents from Rich Energy that were part of the court orders, which Whyte have confirmed they intend to publish if they receive them. If they don't receive them, William Storey will be in contempt of court and could face jail time. Whyte is also expecting the delivery of Rich Energy goods that display their logo soon. If Storey was being truthful then they are set to receive tens of millions of cans of Rich Energy but told us they will "cross that bridge if [they] come to it."Is this the end?
Unfortunately not. It certainly doesn't look good for Rich Energy at the moment with a London based fine wine company, Vin-X
, recently awarded 20% of the company following a court case about an agreement made on a £20,000 loan in 2016. On top of this, Haas are apparently seeking 35 million GBP in damages
for a breach of contract and Red Bull has also begun court proceedings
with the beleaguered brand too for trademark infringements.
Matthew Kell is now the majority shareholder in the company. He is listed as a director for 8 businesses, including others that operate from the same address as BDG. BDG, the insolvency company, boasts that they, "can’t do anything that breaks the law", but that they will "represent your best interest to help you avoid proceedings and problems." As Formula Spy
succinctly explains, "This suggests that the story isn’t quite over yet, with Storey selling his shares voluntarily to a company that will do their absolute best to avoid the duty of a licensed insolvency practitioner – those being legal and financial responsibilities to the company’s creditors."
We have heard that a group of minority shareholders are looking to buy back the brand and rebuild it, which would be the best outcome for Whyte to potentially regain some of their lost costs, but it's unclear if that will come to fruition.
It appears that Storey also still controls the brand's Twitter profile and recently left a chilling warning: "I'll be back." He's clearly hoping to emerge cockroach-like from this nuclear carpet bombing of his own making, but let's hope he gives mountain biking a wide berth next time he does.