MARCH 23, 2001
Ecclestone closer to selling F1 stake
BERNIE ECCLESTONE has this week moved closer to relinquishing overall control of formula one racing as the German media group Kirch formalized its 600 million pound bid for another 25 per cent of his business empire.
"Kirch have made their call," said Ecclestone yesterday, "and they have asked me to continue to run the business once the deal goes through. I have told them that I am happy to stay."
Kirch already control 50 per cent of Ecclestone's SLEC empire, which is held in trust for his wife Slavica and daughters Tamara and Petra, after taking a share in the beleaguered television company EM.TV which itself purchased that stake two years ago. As part of that deal, EM.TV had an option under which it could be - or be obliged to buy - the remaining 25 per cent stake.
Ecclestone made it clear that the matter was not specifically discussed at Wednesday's meeting of the FIA world council. What was debated, however, was Ecclestone's licence to control formula one's commercial rights for 100 years from 2011.
"The world council gave its thumbs-up to that," said Ecclestone, apparently confident that FIA president Max Mosley's had satisfied his concerns over the precise status of the negotiations between Kirch. EM.TV and the Ecclestone trust which, technically, could have seen the governing body veto the whole deal.
Ecclestone had himself held reservations about selling out to Kirch as he was concerned that their commitment to pay-per-view television would see them attempting to undermine the formula one coverage enjoyed by terrestrial channels.
However, he has concluded that Kirch would have no interest in undermining the value of its shareholding by taking such action to reduce the sport's media accessibility.
This development leaves the major car makers Fiat, BMW, Renault, Mercedes-Benz and Ford waiting with a sense of anticipation to see what happens when the dust settles on the Kirch deal.
"The five of them will first have to agree amongst themselves whether they try to buy a stake from the trust or from Kirch," said Ecclestone.
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