British chemicals tycoon Jim Ratcliffe has signed a sponsorship deal with Mercedes' F1 team (Photo: AFP)
Chemicals tycoon Jim Ratcliffe has often been labelled a recluse but the British billionaire's latest foray into the world of sport with Formula One team Mercedes thrusts him into the global sporting spotlight.
Mercedes on Monday announced a five-year "principal partnership" with Ratcliffe's company Ineos, adding to an ever-growing portfolio of sporting investments for one of Britain's richest men.
It follows last year's launch of the Team Ineos cycling outfit, formerly known as Team Sky. That reaped immediate dividends as Colombia's Egan Bernal won the 2019 Tour de France.
Ineos bought Swiss football club Lausanne-Sport in 2017 and last year completed the purchase of French Ligue 1 side Nice.
Ratcliffe, a Manchester United fan, has been mentioned as a possible future owner of Chelsea, if Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich ever sells the Premier League club.
Ineos also ploughed £110 million ($142 million) into British sailor Ben Ainslie's Americas Cup team and sponsored Eliud Kipchoge's successful 2019 project to break the two-hour mark for running the marathon.
Ratcliffe, who has reportedly shifted his fortune to Monaco for tax reasons, has assets worth an estimated £18.15 billion, placing him third in Britain's 2019 Sunday Times Rich List.
The 67-year-old founder and chairman of Ineos, described Mercedes as a "leader in global sport" and hopes to reap the benefits of the tie-up.
"By strengthening our partnership with Mercedes-AMG Petronas it will allow us to identify and unlock even greater performance gains across the wider Ineos sports family," he said.
The glitzy world of international sport is a long way from Ratcliffe's humble beginnings, growing up in social housing in Manchester, northwest England.
Ratcliffe created Ineos in 1998 and the company went on to become an industrial juggernaut in Britain, a country increasingly dominated by the service sector.
The group has annual sales of $60 billion and employs more than 22,000 people worldwide, with chemicals manufactured by Ineos found in everyday products from shower gel to medication.
Ratcliffe, who has a 60-percent stake in Ineos, has continued to diversify the group, entering the automotive sector to build the Ineos Grenadier, intended to be a successor to the Land Rover Defender.
Despite his business success, Ratcliffe has long been an enigma and privacy is also a hallmark of his Ineos group, which is not listed on the stock exchange and therefore has no obligation to disclose its accounts.
But the businessman made his views abundantly clear on the thorny issue of Brexit.
"The Brits are perfectly capable of managing the Brits and don't need Brussels telling them how to manage things," he told the Sunday Times a year before the June 2016 referendum in favour of leaving the EU.
Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff is among those to warn of the damage Brexit could cause Formula One, previously labelling a no-deal exit for the UK from the EU as the "mother of all messes."
However, sitting alongside Radcliffe on Monday, Wolff said "everything will turn out ok" as long as the movement of goods and people are not disrupted.
Pro-EU politicians have accused Ratcliffe of hypocrisy after British media reported that he had taken advantage of Monaco's generous tax regime rather than keep his assets in Britain.
Tax concerns had already led him to relocate the headquarters of his company to Switzerland in 2010, before returning to London in 2016, saying he wanted to demonstrate his confidence in post-Brexit Britain.