There were rumours in Budapest over the weekend that the Renault F1 team may be on the verge of being sold, with the latest whispers suggesting that the many most likely to buy the team is Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who is the owner of the team’s recently-announced sponsor MegaFon.
The controversial 55-year-old Uzbek is one of Russia’s wealthiest men, with a fortune estimated to be worth around $9bn. His wealth is based on an empire which began in mining and forestry and quickly developed into Metalloinvest as the state-owned metal and mining companies were snapped up by the co-called oligarchs after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He is also chairman of Gazprominvestholdings, the investment subsidiary of Russia’s state-owned gas company Gazprom. His holdings are understood to be registered in Cyprus and he has involvements in mining, steel, oil, gas, high technology, pharmaceuticals and more recently media businesses. In the last couple of years he has invested in the newspaper Kommersant, previously owned by Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky who had fallen from favour with the Kremlin. Usmanov went on to buy into the Russian sports TV channel 7TV and the music channel MUZ-TV. He has also bought into London’s Arsenal Football Club and has also begun a major sponsorship of the Moscow Dynamo soccer team, although he does not own shares in the team.
Money is clearly not a problem as Usmanov has spent $30m on an art collection once owned by Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. He is also the owner of J Paul Getty’s old residence Sutton Place, near Guildford in Surrey.
The controversy that surrounds him began in the 1980s when he was jailed on alleged corruption charges by the Soviet authorities. His father had been the state prosecutor in Tashkent and Usmanov studied law in Moscow. He spent six years in jail but later the conviction was ruled to have been fabricated. He has also been named in a legl dispute with the De Beers diamond corporation over one of the world’s most lucrative diamond mines in Arkhangel.
It would not be a surprise to see Renault selling up and getting out of F1 given the state of the world’s car markets and it would be no surprise to see Flavio Briatore staying on to run the team for the new owner. None of the rumours have been confirmed, but it is no secret that Renault has long wanted its F1 programme to deliver success and if it does not do that the team team might not continue in the sport.