Bernie Ecclestone has again sought to shoot down Rupert Murdoch's aspirations to gain control of F1, asserting that the media mogul should 'accept' that current majority owners CVC Capital Partners 'don't want to sell', admitting his hopes that the sport's teams 'come to their senses' over the issue and arguing that pay-per-view TV coverage 'would be suicidal'.

The grand prix paddock has been abuzz with talk of late about the joint investigation between Murdoch's News Corporation behemoth - the third-largest media organisation in the world - and Italian financial holding Exor into a potential takeover of F1. The bid also ostensibly boasts the support of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim - whose Telmex telecommunications giant currently sponsors Sauber - and is seeking further backers to 'explore the possibility' of forming an investment consortium.

Right from the outset, Ecclestone has been adamant that private equity firm CVC - which purchased the commercial rights to the sport five years ago and owns 63.4 per cent of F1's Jersey-based parent company Delta Topco - has absolutely no intention of relinquishing the reins [see separate story - click here], adding that he is 'very happy' with the present partnership.

"CVC has given the answer," stressed the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive, speaking to the official F1 website and conceding that he has no power of veto over any sale. "They are the major shareholders and they do not want to sell. That is 100 per cent for sure.

"Somebody might say that they want to do it, but it doesn't mean that when somebody wants to buy something, the owner wants to sell. CVC made it very clear that they don't want to sell - and if people don't want to sell, others have to accept that fact. It's as simple as that.

"Firstly, they didn't know if it was for sale, and secondly, they didn't know what the price tag was. I would never start to say that I'm interested in something without knowing how much it is. There have been so many rumours out there lately and I go along with Colin Chapman - why spoil a good story with the truth?"

Contending that in any case, 'these people will have to prove what they want to do' and quipping that 'I would want to buy lots of things and I don't have the money, so we will have to wait and see', Ecclestone went on to mull over the potential ramifications for the sport's television coverage were Murdoch to assume the helm and take F1 away from current free-to-air broadcaster the BBC to his own pay-per-view BSkyB network.

He also offered his view on the anticipated meeting between representatives from leading teams Red Bull Racing, McLaren-Mercedes, Ferrari and Mercedes Grand Prix in Stuttgart on Saturday to discuss the new Concorde Agreement, F1's technical regulations and the sport's future ownership.

"I thought that Ferrari won't need to go because one of the people who hopes he's going to be an investor owns Ferrari, so that whole story sounds a bit weird," he retorted, alluding to the fact that Exor is majority-owned by the same Agnelli family that holds a controlling stake in FIAT and therefore, by extension, Ferrari.

"The teams should be happy to have somebody like CVC not selling to the wrong people, trying to maintain a good level for them and supporting me so that I can go to work and earn some money for the teams. I hope these people come to their senses.

"Murdoch hasn't got anything really big to drive [Sky's] TV audiences, and F1 would be good for that. They have been trying to buy the TV rights from us for a long time, but we won't [sell] because they are not free-to-air television broadcasters. They are a subscription service. Very recently, they wanted to do something in Germany, the UK and Italy, but we couldn't do it. Sky is doing an incredible job, but if you look at their audience, they are nowhere. With these figures, it would be almost impossible for teams to find sponsors. That would be suicidal."

Whilst echoing Ecclestone's stance that it is not actively looking to sell F1 - and that, contrary to popular belief, there is no clause in its deal stipulating that it eventually has to - a CVC statement has confirmed that it has received a 'friendly' approach from James Murdoch, News Corp's deputy chief operating officer, and that it 'recognises the quality of Exor and News Corporation as potential investors'.

According to an agreement signed in November, 2006, CVC has first refusal on any stakes in F1's commercial rights offered for sale by minor investors, and is able to veto moves by any of its fellow Delta Topco shareholders to shed theirs should it deem the potential buyers not to be beneficial to the sport.

With discussions looming regarding the formulation of a new Concorde Agreement - and teams having made no secret of their desire for a greater slice of F1's financial pie - one school of thought is that the likes of Red Bull, McLaren and co. are taking advantage of the situation to try to exert pressure upon Ecclestone and CVC and strengthen their own hand in commercial negotiations. The British billionaire is characteristically dismissive about the spectre of a 'breakaway' series re-emerging.

"They've been walking away for a long time," he mused. "They keep walking away. They get lost, that's the trouble, when they walk away. There have been enough times people have wanted to do a breakaway, and they haven't succeeded up until now.

"I go normally to a restaurant in London two or three times a week; not a lot of point in me going and saying to the owners that I want a share of the restaurant just because I eat there. These people are going to look bloody stupid with all their trucks and their uniforms if they've got nowhere to race. It's the same if I go to the restaurant and they've got no food to serve me. We've had five or six Concorde Agreements, and there are always these sorts of discussions going on beforehand. It's normal foreplay before these things happen."

Having belittled Murdoch's chances of assuming control as 'close to zero' [see separate story - click here], Ecclestone has also mused that the announcement of an interest in F1 could simply be an elaborate front for an effort to secure investors to acquire the 61 per cent of satellite broadcaster BskyB that News Corp does not already own - a move that has been approved by the UK Government.

"They've been doing that for three years, so they've got plenty of practice of doing things and not succeeding - trying and doing are two different things," he acerbically quipped, valuing F1 at around $6 billion and adding to The Guardian: "They are trying to get some money together. If they find somebody who has come up with a few billion, they can say 'we can't buy F1, but would you like to come in with Sky?' It is a good way of finding out if there is money out there."

Another likely stumbling-block, he reasons, is that a clause in the existing Concorde Agreement stipulates that grands prix must be held on free-to-air TV rather than pay-per-view subscription channels like BskyB - leading to a potential collision course between Murdoch and the EU Competition Commission.

Meanwhile, FIAT and Exor chairman John Elkann - the grandson of former FIAT President Gianni Agnelli - has shed some light upon his and Murdoch's decision to go public about the News Corp/Exor collaboration rather than keeping it all behind closed doors as would be the norm, insisting that there will be no conflict of interest in the light of Ferrari's participation in F1and revealing that the rationale is 'in terms of exciting the public, in terms of modernisation of the sport, making the sport younger'.

"We're still going through a preliminary phase, but we needed to make the statement to avoid leaks or misleading stories getting out," he told Italian news agency AGI, with Ferrari having stressed that it is 'not directly involved at the moment'. "We'll be very transparent and clear. Above all, a group like ours which has strong interest in this world seeks to do everything possible to ensure that this activity prospers in the future.

"Whoever is into motors will obviously be tempted to be part of this world. We are interested in making this sport more modern and younger. We would like to help ensure the stability of this great sport, think about its future and contribute to its evolution. Now with the people we are speaking to, we need to decide if we can do something or not. We're trying to understand if there are the grounds to carry on."

Former Renault F1 managing director Flavio Briatore has reflected that Elkann and Murdoch's investigation into F1 is only natural, telling Italian media: "The interest comes about because F1 is a source of profit. Investing in football is a bottomless pit [in comparison]. I think it's natural that there would be interest and that there are people looking - it's an attractive investment."



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