Mansoor Ijaz has been in the news for some time and much of the press has been negative, so we asked him to clarify his intentions and ambitions in Formula 1, while once and for all giving reasons for the long drawn out saga between his Quantum Motorsport organisation and Lotus, which did little good for the image of either parties. Here is what Ijaz had to say exclusively to Grand Prix 247.
Why is Mansoor Ijaz both revered and villified in the press?
For those who believe in me, I represent the hope of something better from the actions I take and the investment we can bring. When that process falters, as it did in the Lotus case, and people’s expectations are not met, backlash is to be expected. Lotus is an iconic investment. It has legions of fans and followers who understandably took me to task when they saw harm coming to the team as a result of our investment delays. But slandering me in public, or purposefully propagating the lies told by my political enemies when publicly available information says exactly the contrary is not an acceptable right of reply. Having lived most of my life in the public spotlight, I have developed a pretty thick skin to those who want to heap their anger on me, but let’s do that with proper conduct. No need for all the lies and misinformation that [have] pervaded the Lotus discussion so far. No one regrets the delays we have suffered in completing the Lotus investment more than I do. And no one is doing more to fix it than I am because that is what the team deserves for standing so clearly and strongly behind me for 7 months.
Why are you interested in Formula 1?
It is a global sport that offers an important platform for developing new technologies that can later be potentially commercialized for public use. The global scope also enables us to develop our business partnerships in corners of the world we would not otherwise normally take interest in. We, as an investment group also have strong partnerships in corporate arenas that could act as long-term sponsors for Lotus, thereby strengthening the team’s long-term finances. Personally, I have been driving fast cars since I was very young. The sport exhilarates me and evokes the team spirit I had with teammates when I was an All-American athlete in college. Lotus’ team spirit is among the best I have ever seen in professional sports.
What is your background in Motorsport?
My youngest brother was a key member of the technological team that enabled Ford Motor Company’s 999 entry to set the land speed record at Bonneville in 2007 in a race car powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Three years later in 2010, his team set the land speed record again at Bonneville, but this time in a dragster powered by his company’s lithium-ion powered battery cells. So at a familial level, we have a significant body of knowledge about racing engines and what it takes to excel in the business of speed. With the evolving changes to F1 engines, understanding the technological ways in which we can differentiate the Lotus racing engine’s performance from other Formula 1 cars is at the core of my interest in making this investment.
Why did you choose Lotus?
Of all the teams in F1, Genii Capital’s business model for owning and participating in a major global sport was the closest to what we had in mind when we began our quest. We saw no need to reinvent the wheel, and so we were brought together with Genii’s senior partners in Monaco last year to chart a future course together. Genii was therefore the catalyst for our interest in Lotus. But when we went and saw for ourselves the Lotus team spirit at Enstone and the superlative way in which Eric Boullier, Patrick Louis and others were managing the team, even through the stresses of our investment delays, it was proof enough that Lotus is indeed the finest team in F1 – characterized by a cohesion and unity of purpose, people who love the sport and work hard day after day to bring the highest level of professionalism possible to the complexity of putting winning race cars on the track every two weeks, and by a sense of pride in what they have achieved on a resource base far less than those at the top of the sport.
What went wrong with first efforts you made to finance Lotus?
Our original configuration included investors whose opaqueness posed problems. That opacity hid very complex royal family turmoil over the decision of one family member to make such a publicly visible investment when in fact the internal family decisions did not support our partner. After much struggle to learn the truth during the period of initial delays, we made the decision to remove that partner from our investment equation and asked our Abu Dhabi partner, Suhail Al Dhaheri, to take the lead in concluding the investment. Full payment of the amounts due under our contracts was made in in early October with US Treasury instruments being transferred to the designated account in Luxembourg, but that important transfer was rescinded due to certain regulatory constraints on Luxembourg banks receiving such large amounts of US Treasury Bonds in one go. It left our effort in disarray. The rescinded transfers were not easy to put back on the rails for reasons that are not appropriate for public disclosure. As time went on, confidence levels eroded all around the table – even mine. The public press flogging I suffered in late November and December did not help, and so by the Christmas break I had no choice but to open Track II options for closing the deal and leave Track I to sort itself out or just fail of its own inertia.
Why did Genii Capital’s partners and Lotus’ management stand by you for so long?
The October transfer of treasury instruments that was rescinded convinced everyone in the group that the assets were there to complete. But the lack of transparency on what had gone wrong and how to fix it all reduced the confidence level of being able to continue on Track I. I believe [that] Eric Lux, Eric Boullier, Andy Ruhan and the others stood by me – and are still standing by me – because of my complete transparency in our business dealings. Truth matters to these men, and I would say that the F1 community’s public attacks against me for the failed efforts should be seen in light of hard facts on the ground – that Lotus and Genii still have enough belief in my person and my capacity to finish what we started that they stand by me to let me get my house in order and complete. And that is precisely what I am doing.
What are your plans regarding Formula 1 beyond the Lotus investment?
We are team players. We don’t have any plans to invest beyond Lotus, but we do want to actively participate with our partners at Genii in coordination with Lotus management to make F1 the best brand sport it can be, to make it stronger and keep it viable over the long-term. The scope of change in F1 is significant and it requires that all on board that ship row in the same direction and with equal vigor. We intend, once we complete, to be part of that team spirit.
What is Quantum’s Track II initiative?
During the Christmas break, I met with some of my old investment banking and hedge fund management industry colleagues. I discussed the essential failure points of our first effort, and made clear that I had very little time to project our efforts on a different track if we were to keep the support of the team and our partners at Genii Capital. We needed the first ten days of the New Year to determine whether a structured finance solution born of different elements was possible. When we agreed, we retained the necessary professional help and transparently allowed Lotus co-chairman Andy Ruhan and other members of the team to evaluate our proposed go-forward Track II strategy. Last week, on the 15th, we agreed to move forward with tangible performance milestones on intermediate target dates that would result in financing of similar magnitude as the original deal (a bit more actually, to compensate for our lateness) with largely the same terms [with] (some tweaking to account for real-time changes since May 2013), and we have now moved that effort forward. We have targeted completion at a date between conclusion of the Jerez tests (end January) and the start of Bahrain tests on February 19th.
What do you say to those who criticize you in the wake of the first efforts going wrong to finance Lotus?
Criticisms of me that focus on lack of performance in this particular case are perfectly justified – ask anyone at Lotus or Genii how hard I’ve been on myself to know how severely we have dealt with the in-house divergences that led to Track I funding not being completed. What I do not accept is the nonsense written by bloggers or journalists whose only desire is to gain publicity for themselves by using vitriolic language that spreads either factually inaccurate or wholly untrue information about me obtained through cursory Google searches. If they took five more minutes to search [more] thoughtfully, they would find exactly clarifying articles published by much more credible news outlets readily available. But that wouldn’t suit their negative spin exercises. In the final analysis, for the moment, I can do no better than quoting my good friend, Eric Boullier, when he was asked to comment about the internet noise around me in Brazil: “Fortunately we don’t have to base our judgement only on Google”.
How will you respond to those who have unfairly criticized you?
When we finish the Lotus financing, we will take each and every one of those bloggers and journalists who slandered me to task for their irresponsible behavior. Then we will see how big their mouths are. My public life prior to F1 entailed difficult and complex citizen diplomatic efforts to bring corrupt politicians in my father’s homeland of Pakistan to account. When you hold bad people accountable for what they did wrong, be sure they will lash out – truthfully or not – with every possible mudslinging accusation that is possible. And that is what they did. None of it stuck, or I wouldn’t be able to conduct my business affairs anymore. But I’ve now had enough of the mudslinging with impunity – we will ensure these people are dealt with to the fullest extent of the law. My message to these bloggerheads and irresponsible journalists is crystal clear – if you can’t take the time to ascertain the truth before you write, then don’t write. And if you don’t understand what you are reading, then don’t report it.
Why did Gerard Lopez so publicly break with you last week in saying the Quantum deal was dead when this was clearly not the case?
Imagine that a company – any company – with material creditors announces a deal that brings investment which could resolve creditor claims but the announced funds do not arrive in a timely manner. Such delays create serious issues for the company’s management and board to keep the company viable and solvent. After a long struggle to try and get the investment on board, certain creditors may lose patience. And rightfully so. In such a hypothetical, it is easy to understand why efforts would be made to clarify the situation – but in every clarification, there is also the possibility of additional misunderstandings arising, or journalists taking liberty with the actual words uttered. This happened in our case. Gerard is my friend. He had to take a lot on the chin for my group’s failures during the past six months – he weathered a lot of criticisms and had to answer a lot of uncomfortable questions that he should not have had to. It was neither fair for him to [had to have done that], nor for Eric Lux, my close friend and primary point of contact during the past six months, to have to internally take the fire for our repeated delays. These are remarkably honest and honorable men who never waivered in their support for me. They, together with Andy Ruhan and Christian Frampton, are to this day doing everything possible to assist me in concluding the deal. The only satisfactory conclusion now is that we make it work and bring the investment and sponsorship in to strengthen Lotus beyond where it was when we started all this seven months ago.
How do you see the future of Formula 1?
Every sport has transition points that strengthen its ability to attract a new generation of followers. F1 is going through such a transition right now. The [Bernie] Ecclestone era that brought the sport to unparalleled global recognition and sustainability will give way to a new generation of F1 strategists and managers who chart a course with new engine technologies, improved driver capabilities and more comprehensive models for sponsorship that undergird the sport for a long time to come. We will participate heavily in technology development – my area of strength – and we will bring the large-scale sponsors who have already committed their support to me once we conclude the transaction. The future is very bright for sports of all ilks – our world is so besot by chaos that sports have a way of clarifying and focusing human energy in a constructive way. Global sports platforms, like F1, are able to reach a much broader audience to coalesce peoples across borders for a common purpose. We look forward to being part of the next generation in F1. (GP247)
Subbed by AJN.