Ecclestone keen to clinch deal with car makers

BERNIE ECCLESTONE is now poised to complete the sale of a stake in his business to the major car makers who help bankroll the top grand prix teams.

After months of haggling and debate Mercedes-Benz, Renault, BMW, Jaguar and Fiat - who control Ferrari - are close to striking a deal which would see them take a percentage in SLEC - the Ecclestone family trust established by the billionaire and through which he controls his Formula One Holdings empire which administers the commercial side of this lucrative global televised sport.

Significantly, the news comes five days after Ecclestone stood down from his position as vice president, promotional affairs, of the FIA, motor racing's governing body. This was part of a deal to satisfy European Union competition commissioner Mario Monti that formula one was being run in an even-handed and non-monopolistic fashion.

The news that the long-expected sale of a stake to the car makers will undoubtedly accelerate final approval by the EU of formula one's commercial arrangements, but the precise nature and size of the stake concerned has been a matter of energetic debate for the past six months.

Ecclestone admitted that he would stay on "as long as he can," but told THE TIMES newspaper; "We want things to happen as soon as possible. These car companies have put an enormous investment into F1 and they want to make sure their money and the sport is safe."

The car makers feel that the only way to protect their investments in this high technology sport is to invest in Ecclestone's company as a means of influencing not only the evolution and implementation of the technical regulations, but also to guarantee a structured succession to 70-year-old Ecclestone - who underwent a heart bypass operation last summer - when he finally decides to stand down.

It is likely that the car makers will eventually purchase the 50 per cent stake in SLEC acquired last year by German television company EM.TV which is now facing major financial problems due to a dramatic slump in its share price.

One of the biggest problems facing the car companies is how to divide their own shareholding once it has been secured. Preliminary plans call for companies such as Fiat, Mercedes, Renault and Jaguar, who own shares in specific racing teams, to have a larger share of the pie than the likes of Honda and BMW which simply have contracts to supply engines.

Fiat chief executive Paolo Cantarella is negotiating the terms of the deal with Ecclestone with the support and assistance from the legal department at McLaren.

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