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19. Sheikh Mohammed bin Isa Al Khalifa

al khalifa

Sheikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa (BRN) CEO of the Bahrain Economic Development Board and McLaren Shareholder (Centre). Bahrain Grand Prix, Friday 17th April 2015. Sakhir, Bahrain.

Age 52
Net worth $1,4bn
Source of wealth Mumtalakat
Nationality Bahraini
F1 involvement Team shareholder, Circuit promoter

Al Khalifa was appointed as Political and Economic Adviser to HRH the Crown Prince’s Court in 2012.

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He served as Chief Executive of the Economic Development Board of Bahrain from 2005-2012 and was responsible for ensuring the continued growth and stimulation of the Bahraini economy.

Al Khalifa is also deeply involved in the region’s broader economic development, notably through the World Economic Forum’s Davos and regional forums and chairs.

The prince has been instrumental in Bahrain’s continued development with the philosophy, ‘Little Island with Big Ideas’.

He is a non-executive director of Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat Holding Co established in 2006.

In 2007 he became involved in Formula 1 when Mumtalakat invested in the McLaren Group, joining existing shareholders Daimler AG, Ron Dennis, and the late Mansour Ojjeh.

Mumtalakat took a 30% stake after a pitch by Dennis that persuaded Al Khalifa funding. It was required to transform McLaren into a supercar manufacturer.

In the following years, Mumtalakat increased its shareholding to 60% as Daimler gradually withdrew from the team.

Al Khalifa was committed and continued to fund the road car division, including a dealership chain throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

In 2017 Dennis and Ojjeh fell out, and with both owning 25%, Al Khalifa had to choose one man, and that man was Ojjeh.

Dennis left after 37 years but not before he had pocketed a large cheque to the tune of $385m.

Al Khalifa was appointed chairman and principal non-ex director.

It is fair to say this was the start of McLaren’s downfall, and the group has been a financial black hole with additional shareholders Michael Latifi coming on board and rights issues worth $650m in 2019/20.

By June 2020, Al Khalifa had enough and refused to invest further, instead saving McLaren with a $200m loan from the Bank of Bahrain.

He resigned as chairman.

Bahrain has hosted a GP since 2004, and Al Khalifa has balanced Bahrain’s involvement in both, but it’s proved a tricky road.

In 2012 McLaren was sponsored by Vodaphone and was known as the Vodaphone McLaren Mercedes team.

Vodaphone requested to remove their logos from the McLaren cars during the 2012 Bahrain race after human rights activists called to cancel the race for a second-year run.

Astonishingly in an act of commercial suicide, McLaren refused. It resulted in Vodaphone terminating its sponsorship in 2013.

There was no way Al Khalifa would allow a boycott of a race by a sponsor, thus giving legitimacy to human rights criticism.

What influence does Sheikh Mohammed bin Isa Al Khalifa hold in F1?

Well, he effectively saved McLaren during the pandemic, thus keeping a fragile grid intact.

His real influence is through his country’s hosting of the Grand Prix, which exerts financial pressure on the ‘traditional’ circuits to compete with the deep pockets of a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund.

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