Will Bernie sell out to the car companies?

THE TIMES newspaper in London, once an impeccable source of information but of late rather less reliable, has reported that Bernie Ecclestone is selling his family's shares in SLEC to a consortium of automobile companies which includes Renault, BMW, Fiat, Ford and Mercedes. The deal has been under discussion for some months but our sources say that there is a still a long way to go before anything is finalized. If the deal does go ahead Ecclestone will stay on as chief executive of the company until he decides to stand down.

Ecclestone is very keen to secure the long-term future of the sport which he has built up in the course of the last 20 years but the stories are interestingly timed as they coincide with what appears to be a fast-developing fight for control of 50% of the Formula One holding company (and an option for another 25%) which is currently owned by ailing German media company EM.TV. Rumors suggest that a number of financial companies and media businesses are involved in the bidding for EM.TV and it is quite possible that the story in The Times has been deliberately leaked to the newspaper to suggest that there are even more bidders and push up the price.

In addition to Kirch, bidders for EM.TV include Viacom and Disney which want to get hold of some of EM.TV's media library, which includes The Muppets. They are less interested in EM.TV's shareholding in F1 which might explain why the car companies are back in the picture. It may be that financial firms Morgan Grenfell and Hellman Friedman will be involved in any transactions - as they were when Ecclestone sold the F1 share to EM.TV a year ago.

A deal involving the car companies does make sense for Formula 1 but this is no guarantee that anything will happen as the question of who will be in control of the sport is going to be a very difficult one to answer as no team is going to accept a chief executive from a rival organization. F1 team bosses are too paranoid to accept anything like that.

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