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Toyota and Sauber

DIETRICH MATESCHITZ, the majority shareholder of the Red Bull Sauber Petronas team, has confirmed that he is in discussions with the Toyota Motor Company for the sale of his 51% shareholding in the Swiss team. Mateschitz has been involved with Sauber since the end of 1994 when he bought into the team, his intention being to use Formula 1 - and other dangerous sports - to give his Red Bull high energy drink an exciting image.

The company's growth has been extraordinary with sales rising to 300 million cans last year. The sale of his Sauber shares would repay Mateschitz's investment several times over and would mean that - in effect - the company has been getting free global advertising for the last five years.

The problem is that while Mateschitz is the majority shareholder in the team, he does not own a majority of the voting rights, which remain with team founder Peter Sauber. Such an arrangement is not unusual in business and means that the company remains under Sauber's control although Mateschitz has the rights to a percentage of the profits.

While the sale of the shares makes a lot of sense for Mateschitz - who could demand around $40m from Toyota - the deal is rather less attractive for Toyota, unless Peter Sauber can be convinced to sell his voting shares to give the Japanese car firm control of the organization - which is clearly something which Toyota bosses would like to have to ensure that the Toyota F1 effort is run as they wish.

Sauber says that he has no intention of selling the team he has been building up since he started building his own racing cars in 1970. Sauber is 56 in October and - like Jackie Stewart - may eventually conclude that the sale of his team to Toyota makes a lot of sense.

The advantage of the Swiss team for Toyota is that it employs a large number of German-speaking people who could be transferred to Toyota Team Europe's headquarters in Cologne.

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