Sunday February 11th, 2001
Some of the world's top carmakers are close to a deal to buy at least a quarter of the Formula One racing industry controlled by Bernie Ecclestone, British Sunday newspapers said.
The Sunday Times said the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association, which represents BMW, Fiat, Jaguar, Mercedes and Renault, could up the stake to 35 percent if Ecclestone's trust bought back shares sold to EM.TV, the debt-laden German media group.
"The trust is talking to the manufacturers and we will hear within a few weeks whether it will own 25 percent or 35 percent," the paper quoted Ecclestone as saying.
"It depends on the outcome with EM.TV. Until that is settled, nobody knows."
On Friday, trustees of SLEC, the Ecclestone family trust that owns 50 percent of the sport, met to consider the sale to a consortium led by Paolo Cantarella, chief of Fiat.
Members of the carmakers' consortium own part or all of their own Formula One teams.
The Observer quoted City and motor sport sources as saying the 25 percent stake would be worth more than one billion dollars.
"The carmakers, who may be joined by Japanese firms Honda and Toyota, are keen to secure a return on their investment of $100 million apiece in their Grand Prix teams," it said.
Various groups are said to have expressed interest in EMTV's assets but Kirch Gruppe, a rival media group that has its own pay-television channel, is in exclusive talks with EM.TV.
"The racing teams and Ecclestone are believed to have reservations about a Kirch rescue bid. This is because there would be a conflict of interest if a cable provider owned part of a business whose core revenue came from negotiating deals with television companies," the Times said.
The Observer said Ecclestone was opposing Kirch's attempts to take control of the sport.
EM.TV bought 50 percent of Slec in March but issued a profit warning after failing to achieve 90 percent of its projected profits in December.