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Ratcliffe’s Mercedes-Benz F1 team faces fraud lawsuit

Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team car on display
Mercedes F1 featured the now collapsed cryptocurrency exchange’s logo its cars as part of a sponsorship deal - Jeff Greenberg

The Mercedes Formula 1 team allegedly “aided and abetted” a multibillion-dollar fraud at FTX thanks to its lucrative sponsorship deal, according to an investor lawsuit.

The F1 team, which is backed by Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos Group, was a “necessary player in pushing the FTX fraud”, legal papers claim, splashing the collapsed cryptocurrency exchange’s logo across its cars, merchandise and social media feeds.

FTX, the Bahamas-based digital currency exchange at one stage valued at $32bn, filed for bankruptcy last year. In early November its founder, Sam Bankman-Fried was found guilty by a New York court of multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy.

Its implosion has prompted scrutiny of the exchange’s celebrity endorsements and sponsorship deals, which included a promotional deal inked with the Mercedes team.

Former crypto tycoon Sam Bankman-Fried
Sam Bankman-Fried was found guilty by a New York jury on all seven counts of fraud, embezzlement and criminal conspiracy - ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images

Alongside the Mercedes claims, Florida lawyer Adam Moskowitz filed class action lawsuits on behalf of cryptocurrency investors against Major League Baseball, which was also sponsored by FTX. It filed an additional case against Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo for his work with Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange.

Celebrities who promoted FTX, including former American football star Tom Brady, were sued earlier this year for their links to the exchange. They have sought to have the claims dismissed.

Launching the deal in 2021, Toto Wolff, Mercedes’ team principal and chief executive, heaped praise on FTX. He called FTX one of the “world’s leading cryptocurrency exchanges” and hailed it as a “well-matched partner in our relentless pursuit of performance”.

The lawsuit accuses the F1 team of pursuing “fast money” from the deal, although the size of the sponsorship has not been disclosed. The team is being sued for allegedly “aiding” the fraud and helping promote unregistered securities. A spokesman for Mercedes F1 declined to comment on legal proceedings.

FTX’s logo was emblazoned on the team’s cars and drivers’ caps, with the F1 team posting photographs to its social media feeds of stars, including Lewis Hamilton wearing FTX-branded kit.

Mercedes also lent its branding to sales of “non-fungible tokens”, a type of digital artwork that were sold via FTX’s digital currency exchange. Mercedes also hosted an event alongside FTX to promote the first Miami Grand Prix in 2022.

In the days after FTX’s collapse in November 2022, Mercedes stripped its logos from its cars. Mr Wolff called the failure “very unfortunate” and expressed “utter disbelief at its failure”.

He said at the time Mercedes had partnered with FTX because they were “one of the most credible and solid, financially sound partners that were out there”.

Ineos and Major League Baseball did not respond to requests for comment. Al Nassr, Mr Ronaldo’s club, did not respond to a request for comment.