THE Hampshire billionaire who built a petro-chemical empire could now be making a bid to conquer the world of sport.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe, founder and chairman of chemical giant Ineos, has been linked this week with the takeover of Team Sky cycling and Chelsea FC.

Ratcliffe, regularly billed as Britain’s richest man thanks to his fortune of £21 billion, is already bankrolling Sir Ben Ainsley’s Portsmouth-based America’s Cup sailing team to the the tune of £110 million.

Cycling legend Sir Bradley Wiggins has welcomed the news that Ratcliffe might be interested in backing Team Sky, which will be losing the sponsorship of the satellite broadcaster at the end of 2019 after a decade in which they have secured eight Grand Tour wins.

The five-time Olympic gold medallist and former tour De France winner believes a deal with Ratcliffe would benefit the team under the continuing leadership of general manager Sir Dave Brailsford.

“He (Ratcliffe) is the richest man in Britain and you would imagine that the kind of money they have asked for is nothing to him,” said Sir Bradley

“Dave can continue running out this team with all his plans and philosophies, so it’s an ideal situation for him and he is answerable you’d imagine to one man - it’s his money. It will certainly help that team.”

Last June Ratcliffe – who was born in Manchester and supports Manchester United – was reported to have made an offer of £2bn for Chelsea but the club’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich rejected the bid.

New reports surfaced this week that Ratcliffe, 66, who has a house in Chelsea was still interested in the Blues.

Following difficulties with his visa Abramovich has been absent from Stamford Bridge for most of the season.

He has also shelved plans to rebuild the Stamford Bridge stadium, which would have increased the capacity by 22,000 to 63,000.

Chelsea remain adamant the the club is not for sale.

Ineos is Britain’s largest privately owned company and in 2018 posted annual pre-tax profits of £2bn.