FEBRUARY 15, 2001
Bernie poised for F1 deal of the century
FORMULA 1 commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone is poised to clinch another business coup today with the news that, after all, he will be selling another 25 per cent shareholding in his SLEC empire for an estimated billion dollars.
The buyers will be the financially wobbling German media group EM.TV which already owns 50 per cent of SLEC, for which they paid a reputed 1.6 billion dollars last year. Yet the television company looked as though it could have been bankrupted by such a deal - until news yesterday that the rival Kirch media group was stepping in to save EM.TV by purchasing a 16.74 per cent stake in the troubled company.
Thus strengthened, the two partners plan to exercise the option to purchase the remaining 25 per cent of the SLEC shareholding by the end of the month.
"EM.TV and Kirch will then jointly own 75 per cent of this F1 holding company," said an EM.TV statement yesterday. Yet as of yesterday the Ecclestone camp was being coy about such a proposed deal, saying that nothing was signed yet.
Such a deal would take the commercial control nominally out of Ecclestone's hands - yet as long as he remains the commercial rights holder to the F1 championship, he will continue to be the man who holds the keys to the Grand Prix money-making machine. Shareholding or no shareholding.
Quite where this leaves the major car companies who are said to be planning an investment in the F1 business remains to be seen. Conceivably, they could have now missed the boat.