Jean-Pierre Van Rossem, the flamboyant Belgian financier who supported and partly owned the Onyx F1 team in 1989 has died at the age of 73.
Over the course of F1’s almost seven-decade history, flamboyant team owners and benefactors have come and gone in the sport, but Van Rossem undoubtedly left a lasting impression during his brief stint in Grand Prix racing, albeit not always for the right reasons.
The Belgian’s claim to fame in the late 1980s was to have been the inventor of a sophisticated econometric system – Moneytron – allegedly capable of predicting big movements in the stock market.
In reality, the scheme – which perhaps started out as genuine statistical method pioneered by Van Rossem, a mathematician and economist – turned out to be nothing more than a smoke-and-mirror Ponzi scheme.
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Prominent Belgian investors piled in, handing their hard cash to Van Rossem, but returns were few and far between. The stratagem worked well while it lasted however, with its generator lavishly spending on yachts, Ferraris, private jets and … Formula 1.
Van Rossem’s pipeline to the F1 paddock was laid down by Mike Earle’s Onyx outfit which Moneytron sponsored when the team entered F1 in 1989 with Bertrand Gachot and Stefan Johansson.
Predictably, the flamboyant long-haired hippie-looking fraudster who had taken a majority stake in the team fell out with Earle, a dispute that led to Onyx’s sale to Swiss car maker Peter Monteverdi.
In 1990, reality set in for Van Rossem as his credulous investors – and the law – finally uncovered the truth behind Moneytron. In 1991, he was sentenced to five years in prison for his scams.
“It’s sad to hear he has died, because without him we probably wouldn’t have got to F1,” Mike Earle told Motorsport.com.
“He was flamboyant and unpredictable, but without doubt highly intelligent and ultimately a nice guy if you sat down with him away from the limelight.
“When we got those results with Stefan, he was genuinely over the moon – they definitely meant a lot to him.”
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