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Former Ecclestone backer joins new F1 bid?

23 July 2011

Despite the 'phone-hacking scandal that has enveloped his UK newspaper subsidiary, it would appear that Rupert Murdoch is not about to bow out of the race to take control of F1.

According to Sky News' city editor Mark Kleinman, who has delighted in revealing the latest rumours considering Murdoch's involvement in a consortium apparently keen to relieve CVC Capital Partners of its stake in F1, the group has now been joined by private equity investor Scott Lanphere, who played a part in the trail that led to CVC acquiring the commercial rights to the sport twelve years ago.

Now in charge at London-based Aletheia Partners, Lanphere was a director at Morgan Grenfell Private Equity when it acquired a 12.5 per cent stake in the Ecclestone-owned SLEC Holdings, into which the sport's ringmaster had transferred his F1 interests ahead of a proposed 1997 flotation. Morgan Grenfell's 1999 acquisition of 12.5 per cent of SLEC was the first in a series of dealings that ultimately saw the Speed Investments consortium take a 50 per cent stake in the holding company. Speed itself was acquired by German media company EM.TV in 2000, but the weight of the investment proved too much for the organisation and, having seen F1's share price drop 90 per cent, EM.TV had to be bailed out by rival Kirch, which took control of Speed as a term of the rescue.

Kirch then decided to exercise EM.TV's option to increase its stake in SLEC, borrowing heavily from three German banks in order to do so and, when it then ran into its own financial problems, the financial institutions took control of the now 75 per cent stake in SLEC. While Ecclestone made changes to the boards of SLEC and three other F1 companies under his control, CVC appeared on the horizon and eventually bought out the stakes in SLEC held by Ecclestone's Bambino Holdings, Bayerische Landesbank, JP Morgan Chase and Lehman Brothers to give it full control of the sport through a company called Alpha Prema, in which the Ecclestone family has a stake. Ecclestone was retained to run the sport by its new owners.

According to Kleinman, Morgan Grenfell had the chance to increase its stake in SLEC to 50 per cent, but opted instead to swap its stake for shares in EM.TV. Lanphere apparently opposed that decision, but now, more than a decade on, finds himself again involved in a bid for control of the sport, allegedly in partnership with the Murdoch-owned News Corporation and Exor, the Italian firm which controls Fiat. While the involvement of Murdoch is expected to temper any immediate moves following the uproar over News Corp's involvement in the 'phone-hacking scandal, Lanphere's role as an adviser to Project Corsa - which Kleinman believes is the name given to the interest in F1 - gives it greater credibility.

Neither Lanphere, Aletheia or News Corp was available to provide Kleinman with comment to back up his story, but the fall-out from the hacking scandal includes Murdoch dropping his interest in purchasing BSkyB, potentially leaving News Corp with added cash reserves with which to play.

Ecclestone, meanwhile, has again claimed that any bid involving News Corp was unlikely to succeed because he believed it would include a plan to switch F1 to subscription channels [see story here]. With the BBC apparently reviewing its involvement in the sport, however, a new television suitor is required, with Ecclestone entertaining talks from ITV and Channel 4 and hoping to entice Channel 5 into the mix.


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