Exclusive Nick Fry book extract: True story of conman who tried to buy Brawn GP
After Honda’s shock decision to pull out of F1 at the end of 2008 – tap here to read about that – the team’s chief executive Nick Fry and team principal Ross Brawn managed to convince the Japanese firm to give them one month to find a buyer and keep the outfit going.
Force India owner Vijay Mallya expressed an interest, as did Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson, but there was another potential buyer who turned out to be not what he seemed.
In an exclusive extract from Nick’s book, 'Survive. Drive. Win. The inside Story of Brawn GP and Jenson Button's Incredible F1 Championship Win' – out on October 3 – he takes up the story…
Another suitor who contacted us was Achilleas Kallakis. Four years later, Kallakis would be jailed for seven years for Britain’s biggest-ever mortgage fraud and for duping banks out of more than £750 million. This would make him, as the media put it, ‘Britain’s most successful serial confidence trickster’.
But back in December 2009 Kallakis, an expensively wined and dined balding individual in a classy-looking suit and tie, was in his pomp, playing his part to perfection and hoodwinking everyone left, right and centre.
Ross and I went to see him in a grand office in London’s West End. Achilleas was styling himself as a billionaire Greek shipping owner and he also referred to himself as the ‘Ambassador of the Republic of San Marino’. Ross and I found ourselves perched on a sofa in a sumptuously appointed reception room.
Then in swept Achilleas, making a theatrical entry, rather as a minor royal might do at an official audience.
Achilleas Kallakis – the man who tried to buy Brawn GP and was later dubbed "Britain's most successful serial confidence trickster"
‘Good morning gentleman,’ he uttered. ‘No, do sit down. Very good of you to come at short notice.’
I have to say he was very convincing – he wasn’t Britain’s most successful confidence trickster because he was an amateur – and he got down to business immediately. He wanted to buy the team and he wanted to come to the factory to see our wares. He was direct and to the point and we found ourselves giving him our sales pitch.
We arranged for him to come to Brackley the following Saturday at 10 a.m. for a ‘royal tour’. We had a purpose-built helipad at the factory, but Kallakis’s people let it be known that he would be arriving in a machine that was so big it wouldn’t fit on a standard pad. So we had to clear a car park for this aircraft, which appeared to be some kind of military machine.
A few days later Ross and I were invited to dinner in a private room at the Ritz in London where the staff greeted Achilleas as if he were a Greek God. ‘ Good evening, Mr Ambassador,’ they would offer as he entered. ‘Yes, Mr Ambassador... no, Mr Ambassador...’ and so on.
We had a rather stilted evening, which got a little awkward at one point when Achilleas startlingly revealed that he couldn’t really understand why either Ross or I were stupid enough to pay taxes in the UK.
‘What? You actually pay income tax here? You must be out of your minds,’ he sniffed.
This gave us our first hint that Mr Kallakis was perhaps not all that he was pretending to be. Nothing more was said but it was a comment that neither of us overlooked and it was an indication of what was to come.
Kallakis even flew in to inspect what was then the Honda Racing factory site ahead of his proposed purchase of the team
The doubts lingered. We decided to spend £10,000 on employing Kroll, a corporate detective agency, to try to find out a bit more about Kallakis and and get to the bottom of who the hell this guy was.
They could find nothing about him at all. Until, that is, on 23 December they hit the jackpot. To their great credit they found an old newspaper cutting from somewhere in the US, describing how a certain ‘Stephan Kollakis’ had been convicted in 1995 of selling bogus British feudal titles to hapless Americans and Australians. Suddenly all our suspicions were confirmed.
The following day – Christmas Eve – Ross and I phoned Achilleas from my office.
‘Is that Mr Kallakis?’ I said.
‘Hi there, Achilleas. It’s Nick and Ross from Honda, and I am afraid we have bad news...’
There was a pause, and we could hear a door shutting, before Kallakis replied: ‘Yes?’
‘Well, Ross and I have been doing some research and we have discovered some details about your past that, unfortunately, mean it will be impossible for Honda to do business with you. We are very sorry—’
‘What?’ retorted a clearly very concerned Kallakis. ‘What on earth are you talking about? What details about my past? Tell me now,’ he fumed, going off like a firework display.
Eventually we agreed to tell him what we knew and explained what work Kroll had done. Kallakis quickly recovered his poise and then tried to play it all down.
Former Force India owner Vijay Mallya was also interested in buying the team at one stage, but the deal never happened
‘Oh come on, guys. That was years ago,’ he said. ‘We all make mistakes when we are young. Why should that stop me now? I’m trying to help you, after all.’
When we countered that Honda had the strictest rules on compliance, he responded in a way that only confirmed in our minds that he was certainly not going to be a credible partner for us.
‘Have you told Honda about the report from the agency?’ he asked.
‘No, not yet because they are all away now for Christmas. But they will see it after the break.’
‘Well, why don’t we just send them a different report and then they need never know about it?’
There was a long pause. Ross and I looked at each other incredulously. Ross was a making a throat-cutting gesture.
‘Look, thanks a lot, Achilleas,’ I said. ‘It’s been great meeting you. Have a happy Christmas, mate. All the best.’
And that was that. I have to say that when we read about his trial and conviction four years later, we were fascinated but not surprised.
In the next extract, Nick and the team make it the first race of the season, with explosive results. Meanwhile, tap the link below to order your copy of the book:
In the first extract from the book, Nick describes the shock meeting he was summoned to when Honda told him they were pulling the plug on the team:
Nick also took time out to answer YOUR questions about the Brawn team, that 2009 season – and what it was like to work with Michael Schumacher. Watch here: