Today’s royal wedding has given Badger the excuse to explore some of Formula One’s monarchical connections – and by Jove we’re running with it. Here we’re looking in to the fascinating case of Prince Malik Ado Ibrahim, one-time investor in the Arrows Grand Prix team and all-round mysterious fellow.
Firstly, however, it’s difficult to say just what sort of royalty Malik was. He styles himself as a Prince of the Igbira people, but the topic of what constitutes royalty in Nigeria is far to complex to go in to here, and Badger doesn’t want to start talking about something we have no real grasp of. However F1 journo Joe Saward, whose work is always well researched, put it nicely when the episode unfolded, explaining:
“Nigeria has at least 75 different royal families ranging from kings to emirs and sultans. No-one has yet chronicled them properly and as every son of every king has the theoretical right to use the title ‘Prince’ there are a large number of Nigerian princes in the world today.”
It’s quite likely that Malik had every right to call himself a Prince, though quite what this meant in terms of his financial clout and political influence is unclear. He wasn’t the Prince of Nigeria – no one person is – but that doesn’t mean we should deem him an impostor, as was the done thing when the Arrows deal collapsed and he seemingly vanished in to thin air.
Malik left Nigeria as a child to be educated in England before attending university in California. After being courted as an investor in the failed Dome F1 project, he arrived in F1 during January of 1999, investing in the Tom Walkinshaw-run Arrows team. He’d convinced banking giants Morgan Grenfell to help him in the deal, with figure of his actual ownership varying between 10% and 30% depending on who you’re talking to.
Arrows were coming off the back of a decent season (by their standards at this time, anyway) having finished seventh in the constructors’ championship, ahead of both Stewart and Prost, but needed a cash injection after paying Damon Hill big bucks during 1997 and subsequently losing rent-a-driver Pedro Diniz to Sauber for ’99. With money short Malik’s investment was seen as a lifeline; F1 Racing magazine ran a piece on him titled ‘The Prince Who Saved Arrows.’
His form prior to Arrows is also something of a mystery. At the time his team bio reported that he brokered the sale of Lotus Cars to Malaysian car company Proton, was involved in his native telecom industry and also had interests in a clutch of other companies.
His plan was to raise funds was through the creation of the T-Minus brand, which first appeared properly on the car’s sidepods at the San Marino Grand Prix. Quite what the long-term idea for this brand was wasn’t properly fleshed out, though they did launch an energy drink and planned to sell re-branded products such as clothing and motorcycles through deals brokered by Daniel Audetto, now managing director at Hispania. Saward reported in late ’99 that the T-Minus venture ‘raised absolutely no money.’
But then that’s not necessarily what the Prince was in F1 for. Essentially, Malik envisaged the sport doing for him what it had for Flavio Briatore and Eddie Jordan: transforming charisma and business acumen in to piles of money and international recognition. And then, presumably, he could retire, stock his wardrobe with terrible garments and become a TV pundit…
The idea of any cash injection being made has long been questioned, with Arrows dropping the talented Mika Salo that same winter and hiring the crash-prone, well-funded Japanese racer Tora Takagi and the equally well-backed (but slightly more reliable) Pedro de la Rosa. The car looked striking: the orange, red and white of de la Rosa’s backers Repsol dominated the front end whilst the rear was the jet black it had been the previous year.
But eye-catching car aside the 1999 season would prove to be a disaster. De la Rosa scored one point at the opening race in Australia but did not trouble the top six again, whilst Takagi ended the year pointless and recorded a run of nine straight DNFs to conclude the campaign. The Brian Hart-designed engines couldn’t keep pace with the manufacturer units, and the team would slip to ninth in the constructors’ standings, level with Italian minnows Minardi. By this time Malik had departed the team. When he failed to complete the purchase of his shares by September Tom Walkinshaw effectively retook control of the them. Two and a half years later Arrows were gone.
But Malik was not. In 2005 he resurfaced on the motor racing scene with plans to build a NASCAR team – though this too would end badly. By 2008 he was in court on charges of stealing money that was given to him to develop the career of young racer Robert Richardson. Malik was cleared of the charges, but was not able to leave the Texas jail where he was being held immediately 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.
It’s important to bare in mind that Malik has not been convicted of any crimes and he is, as far as we can tell, simply one of the more interesting characters to have passed through F1 in recent years. In January 2010 he was working for The Bridge, a company that seeks to introduce renewable energy sources to developing countries and of which he is a co-founder. Three months later a warrant was issued for his arrest after a Texan district attorney received claims that Ado Ibrahim had stolen over $200,000 during his probationary period. However the trail stops there, suggesting that these charges we never followed up. Even in this age of information, there remains so much unknown about the mysterious Prince.