Teams keen for F1 ownership stake

Formula 1 teams are ready to listen to what News Corporation's plans for the future are, saying that ownership of a share in the sport is an ambition they are keen to achieve

Teams keen for F1 ownership stake

Just days after News Corp went public in confirming it was involved in a tie-up with Italian investment group Exor to ponder a move into F1, and it was keen to engage in discussions with the sport's stakeholders, team representatives have said they are 'excited' about the latest developments.

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, who is chairman of the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA), said that beyond securing future stability for the sport, teams were eager to become shareholders too.

"I think it ultimately is desirable to have team ownership of commercial rights," he declared during a media briefing held by FOTA in the McLaren motorhome.

"CVC [the current owners] 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."

FOTA is due to hold a meeting on Sunday in Istanbul to discuss the News Corp situation, with Whitmarsh keen for teams to be unified when it comes time to talk to the media organisation.

"We will talk about," said Whitmarsh. "It will be the first time the teams have sat down and had discussions since some of the revelations of the week have come out, and it will be useful to get people's view.

"Part of getting the teams to work together is improved communication and before FOTA really, seldom did the teams sit down and say what do you think of this? What have you heard?

"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."

When asked if FOTA would be open to hearing what News Corporation has to say about its future plans, Whitmarsh said: "Of course. We have to be open to that, but we have to be respectful of our relationship with the current commercial rights holder in terms of the limits of that we are not entering into any negotiations.

"But if people want to say: look we have an interest in buying into F1 we have an interest in buying maybe from CVC, what are your views?

"It is exciting if there are new organisations that may bring new things to the sport. I think that is to be encouraged."

Whitmarsh did play down talk, however, that the tie-up between New Corp and Exor, which has close links with Ferrari's parent company Fiat, was not the first step towards a breakaway championship.

"I don't think we or anyone at the moment wants to posture and threaten on that," he said. "We need to find a sustainable, commercial way forward. 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."

Whitmarsh also made it clear that reports suggesting McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull Racing and Mercedes GP were set for talks with News Corporation in Stuttgart next weekend were wide of the mark.

However, he suggested that it was likely shareholders from the leading teams - which including investment groups from Abu Dhabi and Bahrain - may well be in ongoing discussions with News Corp.

"We are all part of entities where our shareholders talk, they have businesses and they may well be having discussions. But it's not for me to confirm what they are doing and where they are going."

Renault team principal Eric Boullier added: "If there is a strong interest from a new buyer or someone who would like to enter into the buying process for F1, I understand there could be some consultation with the owner of the players [teams].

"That could be normal. It [stories of the four teams meeting] came up into the press and I think out of context, and this is why it is creating all these stories."

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