Kirch tipped "close to control of F1"

ONE is bound to speculate whether Kirch, the German media group, have somehow acquired the rights to the late Margaret Mitchell's epic Gone With The Wind. If they have, they could have been using it as a template for their negotiations with Bernie Ecclestone over whether or not they gain control of F1.

This long-running saga now makes that cinematic epic look like some sort of three-minute advertising break. After weeks of tortuous negotiations, Saturdays DAILY TELEGRAPH was predicting that the deal may well be done before the sun sets this evening.

It is claimed that Kirch is now close to securing the $1 billion finance necessary for the company - and its troubled rival EM.TV - to take over control of Ecclestone's F1 motor racing business.

The company would use the money to enable EM.TV to exercise an option to raise its stake in SLEC, the Ecclestone family F1 holding company, from 50 to 75 per cent.

If completed, it would mean that the Ecclestone family had taken $3 million pounds out of the F1 business over the past two years, including the proceeds from a bond issue.

Hartmut Schutz, a spokesman for Kirch, said yesterday; "We are in contact with potential providers of capital. We believe that by Saturday (today) we will have secured the finance."

Most people within the F1 community, preparing to leave for Australia and the first round of the title chase, say they will believe it when they see it. The mechanics of precisely how the major international car companies buy a deal for a stake in the business if majority control passes to Kirch is a matter of some debate.

One thing is clear, pay-to-view TV is a dead duck as F1's main media priority. If Kirch think they will be able to use their muscle to marginalize terrestrial coverage of the Championship, they are in for a big surprise.

The FIA is against it - and last week Michael Schumacher, Renault and Ferrari Chairman Luca di Montezemolo all spoke out against it. So that is the end of any debate on the issue.

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