Atlas F1 News Service, a Reuters report

F1 to Remain on German Free TV, Says Kirch

Wednesday February 28th, 2001

Formula One will still be broadcast live on German free television after Kirch and EM.TV increase their stake in the holding which owns the commercial rights to races, Kirch said on Wednesday.

"There is no interest in letting the Formula One disappear into (German) pay television," a Kirch spokesman said.

Kirch and EM.TV plan to exercise an option later on Wednesday to buy an extra 25 percent stake in Formula One holding company SLEC for almost $1 billion, taking its total holding to 75 percent.

Several Formula One car makers have said they are against SLEC falling into the hands of a single television company which could then restrict coverage to paying subscribers.

Paolo Cantarella, chairman of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) and chief executive of Italian auto maker Fiat, said on Tuesday Formula One's five car makers were against EM.TV taking control of SLEC.

Wolfgang Reitzle, chief of Ford-owned Jaguar, said this week that this would turn Formula One into a media spectacle with the racing becoming of secondary importance.

Max Mosley, the head of the International Automobile Federation (FIA) also does not want to see Kirch and EM.TV exercising their option. Mosley said last week that he believed the FIA general assembly will block the deal.

ACEA members include BMW, who are engine providers to Williams, McLaren partners DaimlerChrysler, Ford, Renault -- who own the Benetton team -- and world champions Ferrari's parent company Fiat.

The car makers want to buy their own stake in SLEC.

Midnight Deadline

SLEC is currently equally owned by racing mogul Bernie Ecclestone and the Kirch/EM.TV consortium.

Kirch bought a 16.74 percent stake in EM.TV earlier this month and holds 25.1 percent of the debt-laden company's voting rights.

EM.TV has until midnight on Wednesday to exercise the option, awarded as part of an agreement with Ecclestone when the German media company bought an initial 50 percent stake in SLEC.

According to newspaper reports, it then has four weeks to pay the $1 billion.

Kirch, which is backing a loan so that EM.TV can exercise the option, said last weekend it had the financing in place but has not named its lenders.

The Kirch spokesman said the company is prepared to talk to the manufacturers to find a solution to their dispute. EM.TV said on Monday it was already in exploratory talks with the car makers over selling part of its SLEC stake.

Juergen Hubbert, DaimlerChrysler board member responsible for the Mercedes car brand, was quoted in German business daily Handelsblatt on Wednesday as saying that F1 car makers want to own more than a quarter of SLEC themselves.

He said he was not prepared to talk with Kirch, only to Ecclestone.

Hubbert also signalled that the car makers could start an alternative circuit if Kirch tightened its control on SLEC.

Ecclestone and Reitzle have also mentioned recently the possibility of a substitute series although Mosley said last week that it was unlikely to happen.

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