With a promise of $125 million, a royal lineage, and a sponsorship from his very own T-Minus brand, Prince Malik Ado-Ibhrahim became Formula 1's first Black team owner when he purchased a majority stake in the longstanding Arrows team. Then, with half the season remaining, this Nigerian prince disappeared.
(Editor’s note: This week marks the release of Racing with Rich Energy: How a Rogue Sponsor Took Formula One for a Ride by Elizabeth Blackstock and Alanis King. To celebrate a book that began as a blog on Jalopnik, co-author Blackstock is covering the history of some of F1's other questionable sponsors. These sponsors are touched on in the book, but not in depth. Racing with Rich Energy is available via McFarland, Amazon, Kindle, and Eurospan for international buyers.)
Perhaps one of the most confusing parts of Ado-Ibrahim’s involvement with Arrows was the team’s lack of research into this man. While he notes that he studied business in London and California, avidly played polo, and that he entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans under a pseudonym, there are very few public records that concretely established him as either a prince or a knowledgable motorsport enthusiast. Arrows took Ado-Ibrahim’s net worth at face value, thanks in large part because he came with Morgan Grenfell Private Equity (MGPE), an investment banking firm. When he promised the team $125 million for as much as a one-third stake in the team, Arrows leaped at the money.
Further confusion came when T-Minus, the brand that would go on to adorn the Arrows machines in 1999, really didn’t have a product to sell. Ado-Ibrahim claimed it was an energy drink manufacturer (and those drinks did exist), but it was also a stand-in brand for anything its founder wanted it to adorn — cars, clothes, motorcycles, and more — for a hefty sum. How T-Minus made money outside of those ventures, though, wasn’t readily apparent.
The Arrows team had existed since 1978, when a group of former Shadow team personnel joined together to piece together an F1 team in three months. It was never a particularly successful outfit, boasting no victories and nine podiums during its 18 years in existence — but its own origins came with a little bit of scandal. One of the co-founders, Franco Ambrosio, was jailed in 1978 for financial irregularities, and the Shadow team also tried to sue Arrows for stealing its intellectual property.
After a primary sponsorship by Footwork, Arrows was bought out by Tom Walkinshaw when the man nabbed 51 percent of the team in 1996. Walkinshaw had boasted success in sports cars and had also contributed to Michael Schumacher’s first F1 title — so his legacy was seen as a good thing.
The fact that Walkinshaw could easily buy a majority of the team, though, illustrated that it was in dire financial straits, and that never exactly got any better. Walkinshaw courted Zakspeed, a German racing team, at the end of 1998, as Zakspeed had offered $40 million for the team. Unfortunately, terms couldn’t be reached, and Walkinshaw instead turned to Prince Malik Ado-Ibrahim and T-Minus.
Ado-Ibrahim ultimately purchased a 25 percent share, bringing with it MGPE to buy a 45 percent share — and to help bail the Arrows team out of further financial trouble.
After a single points-scoring finish in the opening race of the 1999 season, Arrows fell apart. Drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Toranosuke Takagi both retired more than they finished events, and de la Rosa’s single point for his sixth place was all the team had to tide it over during a stormy season.
It soon became obvious that the T-Minus brand wasn’t going to provide much of anything for the Arrows team, and by the Hungarian Grand Prix, Ado-Ibrahim had vanished from the Formula 1 scene. Walkinshaw, desperate for funding, turned to MGPE to provide a long-term loan to cover the funds of running a Formula 1 team.
The downside, though, was that so much money was socked away to MGPE that there was little left in the coffers for actual vehicle development. Thus began a vicious cycle, where Walkinshaw needed to borrow even more money to keep the team afloat while his payments continued to increase. And, as insult to injury, MGPE and Eurobet, an MGPE-owned betting company, both lost millions of dollars by getting involved with the team.
By the end of 2001, Walkinshaw was funding Arrows from his own pocket. He briefly courted Red Bull, who wanted to buy the team outright, but MGPE wouldn’t sign off on the purchase unless Red Bull also bought out its 45 percent stake in the team. Pair that with several drivers bringing lawsuits against the team and the FIA’s rejection of the team’s application to race in the 2003 season, and Arrows was over. The team had died.
The team’s A23 chassis and all its intellectual property rights were purchased by the Minardi team. Then, both the Minardi and Arrows intellectual property rights were sold to Red Bull and Aguri Suzuki, respectively. Aguri Suzuki became Super Aguri F1, which took over Arrows’ headquarters but only ran two full and a third partial season before it, too, folded. The assets are now still owned by Formtech Composites, but the shadow of Arrows never made it back to F1. Walkinshaw’s own reputation never recovered, haunting him until his death in 2010 at age 64 after he was forced to liquidate his entire racing group.
But Ado-Ibrahim wasn’t entirely gone. Instead, he turned to the NASCAR scene — and promptly got into legal trouble. From Vice:
But while Arrows vanished from the racing scene, Malik did not. In 2008 he was in court on charges of stealing money that was given to him to develop the career of young NASCAR driver. Malik was cleared, but was not able to leave the Texas jail where he was being held as he was required to post bail of $35,000 in connection with a number of perjury charges for false statements he allegedly made during the lead up to his trial.
After his ultimate release, Ado-Ibrahim returned to Nigeria, where he’s remained ever since. In 2016, he joined up with Nigus Greenenergy, a Nigerian company dedicated to renewable energy. Ado-Ibrahim became a proponent for electric vehicles in Nigeria, and more recently, he has emerged as a legitimate Nigerian presidential candidate. After all, why would you just be a prince when you could be a president, too?