• F1 Ownership

Teams show interest in F1 ownership stake

ESPNF1 Staff
May 6, 2011 « Wet tyre supply not a concern - Pirelli | »
Martin Whitmarsh: "I think it ultimately is desirable to have team ownership of commercial rights" © Sutton Images

Amid speculation that News Corporation is lining up a bid for the sport's commercial rights, Formula One teams have revealed they are also interested in some level of ownership.

News Corporation and investment company Exor confirmed their interest in buying the commercial rights earlier this week, but current owners CVC Capital Partners and F1's CEO Bernie Ecclestone have indicated that the sport is not for sale.

Chairman of the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) Martin Whitmarsh said the teams were "open" to hearing News Corporation's ideas for the sport but would be "respectful" of CVC's ownership. Above all, however, he made clear that FOTA wants to have more control over the direction of the sport and said ownership was one way of achieving that.

"I think it ultimately is desirable to have team ownership of commercial rights," he was quoted as saying by Autosport. "CVC have claimed, or their representative has claimed, that they are not looking to sell, but there are not many venture capitalists who want to keep businesses on their books infinitum. Who knows? I have no insight into it and I have not had the discussion personally with CVC.

"I think the teams want to ensure that first and foremost that we have stability, we want to ensure that the sport is sustainable and to be sustainable you need the appropriate level of investment to promote and develop the sport. You need the appropriate distribution of the revenues to teams to make it sustainable and those are the primary things.

"Largely, who owns it, to most teams, is not the biggest concern. I think you want stability, you want people investing in the future and you need an appropriate distribution to the teams, and if you have all those things and you have good owners, whoever they are, that is positive. The teams then, I think we have all got to look at whether we, each of us, want to be involved in an ownership model in the future, if the current owners want to sell. I suspect they will at some stage but we will have to see."

He said the teams would meet on Sunday to come to a unified position on the issue.

"We will be talking about some of the issues of which questions have been asked here, asking for views and whether teams feel comfortable that we are all on the same page and all pointing in the same direction - making sure we are all aligned on what our strategy should be for going forward commercially and in all the other facets of our sport."

Whitmarsh said more investment in the sport was an important factor, whether it comes from CVC or a new owner.

"We need to find a sustainable, commercial way forward," he added. "We want to see investment. Whether that is with existing partners or future partners, I think again we should be delighted that people are taking an interest in our sport and that wasn't the case a couple of years ago.

"We are seeing now a flow back of sponsorship interest at all levels of the sport, and that is positive. We have stabilised costs to a degree, we are trying to work together and if people are saying now is the opportunity to come in to F1, there are all sorts of pitfalls and trenches that we can fall into as we try and chart the path going forward. But hopefully we can find a positive way going forward for the sport."

One issue that would need to be agreed upon if a News Corporation-led buyout goes ahead is how the sport is broadcast. In most territories F1 is currently free-to-air but the majority of News Corporation's media outlets are based on a payment model.

Teams have historically negotiated lucrative deals with sponsors on the strength of F1's global audience, which is largely due to its free-to-air coverage. Speaking to Bloomberg, McLaren Group chairman Ron Dennis said it was important the free-to-air arrangement remains in place.

"We generate revenue from the surface of the racing car," he said. "The teams would have to be heavily persuaded to support anything that wouldn't see that free-to-air element of grand prix racing maintained."

Whitmarsh added: "I think it's clear that the business model of all the teams relies on free-to-air. We're selling a large, broad, media exposure. That's the business model and I'm sure that that's the business model of all the Formula One teams will require going forward."