What do we know about the multinational chemicals company that could be Team Sky's new sponsor - and its owner?

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Team Sky’s sponsorship search is said to be nearing its end, with rumours suggesting that Britain’s richest man Sir Jim Ratcliffe will take on the squad from 2020 onwards.

The £34 million a year operation already has the biggest annual budget in the peloton, but it’s believed that Ratcliffe’s support will further line its pockets.

>>> British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe to sponsor Team Sky with bigger budget, according to sources

It is expected that Ratcliffe’s chemical company – Ineos – will be the headline sponsor, however, sources at the team have not confirmed if it will be Ineos itself or one of its subsidiaries.

Ineos reportedly invested £110 million in ‘Ineos Team UK’ sailing team, fronted by Ben Ainslie, last year.

Details are due to be announced before the Giro d’Italia this year, but it could be that Team Sky will simply flip its name to ‘Team Ineos’.

With ‘TeamIneos.com’ registered as a domain name on March 5 and @teamineos registered on Twitter, the rumours look pretty solid.

Ratcliffe – who in 2018 topped the Sunday Times Rich List with a fortune of £21.05 billion – began his career as a chemical engineer at Esso, later studying management accounting and turning his hands to financing and industry.

The father of one was granted an honorary fellowship by the Institution of Chemical Engineers in 2009.

He founded Ineos in 1998. The name is in part derived from the companies previous name, Inspec Ethylene Oxide Specialities. More romantically, it’s also a combination of ‘Ineo’, Latin for new beginning and ‘Eos’, the Greek goddess of dawn. ‘Neos’ means something new and innovative. So the translation is roughly ‘the dawn of something new and innovative’.

Ratcliffe is the current chairman and holds a 60 per cent share in the company, which has a headquarters in London and further offices in Lyndhurst, Hampshire.

Ineos manufactures and distributes a wide range of petrochemicals – chemicals obtained from petroleum and natural gas – as well as oil.

The company makes the raw materials used in manufacture by other companies – ranging from fuels for transport to plastics for packaging, and chlorine used to purify water.

It owns 171 manufacturing facilities, across 24 counties which supply to markets all over the world, producing around 60 tonnes of assorted product a year.

Its greatest share comes from fuels and lubricants, which make up 23.2 per cent of the business. Food and packaging is next, at 18.5 per cent with construction in third at 16.1 per cent. Other areas include automotive and transport, textiles, white good and pharmaceuticals.

Ineos’ automotive business was a project conceived by Ratcliffe after Jaguar Land Rover announced that the Land Rover Defender was to be no more.

In 2016, the enthusiast set up ‘Projekt Grenadier’ in a bid to create in ‘uncompromising, hard-working’ 4×4.

Ineos’ 2017 annual turnover was $60 billion, and the organisation is split into approximately 20 standalone business units, with 19,000 employees beavering away within them.

Joe Corre with protesters wearing masks of INEOS CEO Jim Ratcliffe (Photo by Ki Price/Getty Images)

The business is not without controversy.

In November 2017, Ineos secured an extension to its injunction against anti-fracking protesters, meaning that any one obstructing the firm’s fracking activities could face jail or a fine. It claimed its aim was to “prohibit unlawful activities on private and public land.”

In March this year, campaigners Joe Boyd and Joe Corre said they would take the fight against the injunction to the Court of Appeal, with support from environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth.

They say that the injunction is “unprecedented and wide-ranging” and that it has had “a very serious chilling effect on lawful and legitimate protest activities”.

Ratcliffe is supported in his management by director Andy Currie, who was formerly managing director at Laporte Performance Chemicals, and finance director John Reece.

Ratcliffe himself has made expeditions to both the North and South poles, and also founded a charity called ‘Go Run for Fun’, encouraging children aged from five to 10 to get active.

He enjoys sailing himself, and partnered with Ainslie to form Ineos Team UK in 2018.