F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone claims that the sport has not one, but two potential buyers lined up its controlling stake - but insists that he is not one of them.
Rumours suggesting that US private equity firm CVC is looking to divest itself of the 35 per cent holding in F1 have been rife for some time, and Ecclestone confirmed at the weekend that two potential buyers have emerged, willing to meet the price on offer.
"There are two people who want to buy," the 85-year old told Britain's Mail on Sunday
newspaper, "Actually, two of the people have agreed the price. It's just a question of whether CVC wants to sell or not. I think they will make a decision on the sale sooner or later."
CVC's stake, which was acquired for $1.7bn in 2006 and has realised $4.4bn through share sales and profits in the decade since then, comes with conditions which allow it to outvote other shareholders. Although the company has since halved its holding in the sport, selling to financial groups Waddell & Reed, BlackRock and Norges Bank, its 35 per cent stake still gives it the controlling interest.
The identity of the potential buyers has not been made public, but both must be thought willing to meet CVC's valuation of $8.5bn. Previous candidates, including Liberty Global, broadcaster Discovery and a consortium led by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, China Media Capital and Qatar's sovereign wealth fund all fell short of meeting the financial expectation.
Whatever the case, Ecclestone himself insists that there is 'no way' he would consider putting himself back in the driving seat, telling Britain's Daily Telegraph
that 'it would be too difficult and far too complicated'.
“I am happy with the shareholding I have," he claimed, "I would want to buy more or less all the other shares so there would be no democracy – and I would not want that.”
Ecclestone admitted that, over the years, he has sought help to run the sport, but that his personal choice of 'assistant' - a list that includes former Benetton/Renault F1 team boss Flavio Briatore - had been rejected by its owners.
“The shareholders were desperate to see if they could get somebody to help me, in case something happened to me and I was not here to run the business,” he explained, “I've been looking for a few years and I'd be really happy to have someone who could share some of the responsibilities I face. Someone who can ease the burden of some of the rubbish I have try to cope with – and let me get on with what is best for F1. There are a million people who think they can do it, but it is an urgent case of finding the right one. There are a couple of people I'd be happy with and I put their names forward – but their names were thrown out.”
With a potential sale on the table, there have to be concerns in the Ecclestone camp that his grip on the sport may be about to weaken, but he insists that he has no other plans.
“My view of life and business is simple: do your utmost to make a success, stay involved – or get out," he concluded, “Despite the setbacks and my backing down from a buyout, I'm going nowhere... Well, not just yet.”