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AUGUST 2, 2002

Why would Prince Al Waleed want F1?

HRH Prince Al Waleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud (to give him his proper name) is one of the richest men in the world and has proved in the course of the last 15 years to be one of the most astute investors playing with big stakes. His father was a Saudi who married the daughter of Riad Bek Sohl, who in 1943 became the first post-independence Prime Minister of the Lebanon and led six different governments before he was assassinated in 1951.

Prince Al Waleed was born in 1955 and began his career as an investor in 1979. He kept a low profile for most of his early career but hit the headlines in 1991 when he invested $800m in Citibank. Three years later he came to the rescue of Euro Disney, buying 24% of the debt-ridden company. His empire grew to span a huge hotel empire including the George V in Paris and the Plaza in New York. His investments include major holdings in the Four Seasons, Movenpick and Fairmont chains and his current projects include major investment in new hotels across the Middle East, notably in Beirut, Cairo, on Jordan's Dead Sea coast and in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Shiekh in Egypt. In addition he owns shares in hotels and casinos in the Bahamas, Dubai and the Venetian Sands Hotel in Las Vegas.

But hotels and banking are only a part of his empire. His property portfolio includes London's Canary Wharf development and a similar development in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He invested heavily in technology and owns shares in AOL Time Warner, Netscape, Apple Computer and Motorola. He also owns important shareholdings in Saks Fifth Avenue, Donna Karan International and Planet Hollywood. In addition he is a shareholder in both the Daewoo and Proton car companies. He also owns part of TWA and the satellite maker Teledesic.

His current philosophy is to concentrate on communications, technology, entertainment and news and his media holdings include a share in Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset and (for what it is worth) Kirch.

His success has given him a life of luxury with two private airliners, a 100m yacht and a collection of more than 250 cars.

In recent months he has shown signs of challenging Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafik Hariri for power in the region.

Prince Al Waleed is assisted in the running of his Kingdom Corporation by his son Prince Khaled bin Waleed al-Saud, who is 23.

Motor racing people might see Al Waleed as an obvious candidate for F1 team ownership as a means of promoting his various businesses and he may also be behind bids to host F1 races in the Middle East, as this would help his new hotel businesses. But Al Waleed has shown throughout his career that he does not throw money about and must be convinced that he is getting a bargain. Buying Minardi might qualify as a bargain although F1 has still to prove that it has the foresight to sort out its current problems and maintain its popularity in the longer term.

We hear that the Prince is in favor of the idea if the businesses in which he is involved are willing to invest in sponsorship of the team. These decisions will be made by the firms concerned rather than by the Prince himself.