Speculation is mounting that Formula One is about to be revamped by a US takeover that could bring new life and a higher profile for a sport that is struggling to attract new fans.
Media reports suggest that F1’s largest and controlling shareholder, the hedge fund CVC Capital Partners, is preparing to sell the business to US media conglomerate Liberty Media for around $8.5 billion; more than four times CVC’s original outlay in 2006.
At last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, Formula One’s commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone met with CVC co-chairman Donald Mackenzie, whose rare appearance in the paddock fueled speculation of an imminent deal. When speaking at Monza, however, the 85-year-old Ecclestone would not confirm whether or not a sale is going ahead.
Liberty, a multi-billion dollar, mass-media company is run by 75-year-old John Malone. He is ranked 184th on the Forbes list of billionaires – 69th in the US – with a net worth of $7.1 billion, and Forbes credits him as being the “nation’s biggest individual landowner, with over two million acres across seven states.”
Malone would not be a newcomer to the high-end world of sport, since Liberty owns Major League Baseball side Atlanta Braves.
Reportedly, with Malone in charge, F1’s new chairman would become Chase Carey, the executive vice-chairman of 21st Century Fox.
Despite its American base, Ecclestone was skeptical as to whether a takeover by Liberty would increase F1’s success in the United States, which currently hosts only one of 21 races on the calendar and has no drivers competing in the championship. The only US representative on the grid is the US-backed Haas team, which arrived in F1 this season and has done reasonably well thanks to experienced French driver Romain Grosjean.
“To open the American market you need to have 10 races in America, sell tickets cheap and have a huge number of hamburger stands – but then it would not be F1 any longer,” Ecclestone told F1.com, the sport’s official website. “But if all that scenario of the takeover is happening, then they can do what they want.”
CVC is F1’s biggest shareholder with a 35.5 per cent stake, followed by US fund manager Waddell & Reed with just over 20 per cent. Ecclestone has 5.3 per cent stake in F1 but his family Bambino Trust has a further 8.5 per cent, rounding up his involvement up to about 14 per cent.
Ecclestone’s own position in the event of a Liberty buyout is another subject of interest in the F1 paddock. When asked about it, the British billionaire replied… read full story