Tom Group Calls F1 Talk Premature

Tycoon Li Ka-shing's Tom Group Ltd said on Monday it was premature to say it is in talks on a specific deal to buy the Formula One auto racing group, but did not rule out any interest in the popular sport

The Hong Kong-based media company, partly owned by Li's flagship conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. , was responding to a report in Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper that said Hutchison was preparing a $1 billion bid for Formula One through the Tom Group.

"It is premature to suggest that TOM is discussing any specific deal at this moment," Tom Group said in a statement.

"As an expanding media group, TOM has always been exploring different opportunities in (the) sports marketing business. We do from time to time engage in preliminary talks with concerned parties on possible cooperation or investment."

Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone told reporters on Sunday that he had met someone about the matter, but said such approaches were unremarkable and that he would be happier to keep Formula One's current ownership structure.

Ecclestone's family trust owns 25 percent of Formula One, which is expanding beyond its European base, with Shanghai among the newest tracks on the circuit.

The remainder of Formula One is owned by banks JP Morgan , BayernLB and Lehman Brothers .

The report in the Sunday Telegraph quoted a banker close to the negotiations as saying that "Hutchison wants to add F1 to its media empire."

"It sees great potential for F1 in Asia and is now spending a lot of time and effort cosying up to Bernie," the report quoted the banker as saying.

Hutchison spokeswoman Laura Cheung said, "as far as Hutchison is concerned, we are not in talks."

Li's holdings include brands that could potentially benefit from cross-selling opportunities with Formula One, including third-generation mobile phone networks in the UK, Italy and elsewhere.

Hutchison is also the world's biggest health and beauty retailer by number of stores, with numerous holdings in Europe.

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