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Teams unconcerned by IPO 'speculation'

24 March 2012


F1 may have been consumed by talk of a possible stock floatation since the idea was 'leaked' over the Australian Grand Prix weekend, but various team principals have dismissed the idea of becoming involved in what the feel is still 'just talk'.

While rumours of a possible floatation have been around for several years, British broadcaster Sky News revealed that a possible listing was imminent during last weekend's Melbourne race weekend, although the story was pulled shortly after initial publication on the internet. According to the report, which was later reinstated after 'a pause for thought' on behalf of the broadcaster, commercial rights holder CVC Capital Partners is considering listing the F1 'company' - of which it owns 63.4 per cent - in either Singapore or Hong Kong, with suggestions that an initial public offering [IPO] could value the sport at more than $10bn [see story here].

The story also claimed that CVC, which acquired its stake in the sport six years ago, had engaged investment bank Goldman Sachs to examine a possible share placement with a new investor as preparation for the IPO. F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone, who manages the rights on behalf of CVC, has subsequently confirmed that he was behind the proposal, but insisted that any decision to list would remain with the rights holder itself.

Asked whether the possibility of F1 stock becoming available would be of benefit to their teams, however, the principals refused to be drawn without having more detail of what was being proposed.

"There are no details out there and floatation can mean many things," Lotus team owner Gerard Lopez commented, "If you take to the market a minority share, it doesn't change anything in ownership. It gives more liquidity to the owners, maybe more money to the sport, but, as long as there are no details on what might be IPO'd or not, I don't think there is much to be discussed because it can mean many, many things to many people. It really depends on what you're going to take to the market.

"As far as F1 goes, it might have made sense if all the F1 teams could afford it, if they all became shareholders in some form or fashion but that's not going to happen. So, as far as investing in F1, I think it then becomes purely a financial position and then it falls out of the sport. It's like if someone wants to invest or not. It's like any other stuff."

Sauber CEO Monisha Kalternborn confirmed that the teams were still largely in the dark regarding details of the floatation plan, but insisted that the sport needed to be safeguarded for all involved.

"On the flotation itself, we also do not know more, so anything I guess we'd say is mere speculation," she noted, "As a team, what's important to us is that whoever owns F1 should prepare the sport to face the challenges, which we all will be [facing], and to create parameters whereby running a team can be sustainable for everyone here."

McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh was perhaps the most sceptical of the plan, feeling that involvement would not benefit the Woking operation.

"I don't think it will benefit us as a team but, again, I have no detail of proposals anyway," he claimed, "But, generally, floatations and change of ownership aren't done for the benefit of a sport. I think what we, as race teams, need to concentrate on is putting a show on here and, clearly, the owners can decide what they do with the asset.

"I don't think it's our business. Our business is that we're a race team primarily - we've got a few other businesses as well now - but being owners of F1 isn't something that's in our plans."

Amid the talk of floatation are rumours that certain teams are being offered favourable terms to sign up to the next edition of the Concorde Agreement, with reports suggesting that CVC needs the current Concorde Agreement to be extended before it can successfully gauge the value of its F1 involvement. The remaining seven FOTA members met during the Australian GP weekend to discuss the rumours, understandably concerned that defectors Ferrari and Red Bull may stand to gain from deals with CVC and Bernie Ecclestone.

"From Red Bull's perspective, we're an entrant, we're a team, we're very happy to be both an entrant and a team and we don't see a necessity or requirement to have a shareholding," RBR's Christian Horner insisted, "At the end of the day, it's not down to us, it's down to the shareholders, it's down to CVC and Bernie. It's their business at the end of the day, not the teams. We're not involved in the detail, [but] I heard that there is potential discussion and it's an interesting concept."

Ferrari principal Stefano Domenicali largely echoed what Horner had to say, but still would not be drawn on the Scuderia's involvement.

"First of all, [there is] nothing to comment on... because you never know what is the reality at the end," he pointed out, "What I can see is that there are ongoing discussions. At the moment, the situation seems to be reasonable, but nothing more than what I'm seeing now."


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