Carmakers Seek F1 Stake to Foil Kirch

28 February 2001

A group of auto manufacturers led by DaimlerChrysler is to table a bid for a share in SLEC, the foundation which controls the broadcasting rights of Formula One motor racing.

The car consortium will on Friday make an offer to buy one-third of SLEC’s shares from Bernie Ecclestone, the racing promoter who currently holds a 50% stake in the body. Reportedly joining DaimlerChrysler in the bid are, among others, Fiat and Ford.

The move is a deliberate attempt to block the takeover of SLEC by German media group Kirch, which recently struck a deal whereby it will gain nearly half of the 50% stake owned by troubled rival-turned-partner EM.TV [WAMN: 15-Feb-01]. Kirch is also trying to fund EM.TV’s option of acquiring a further 25% stake from Ecclestone for 1.08 billion euros ($987 million).

“If Kirch has 75% [its anticipated stake plus EM.TV’s remaining shares] then that is the end of Formula 1,” warned Juergen Hubbert, the DaimlerChrysler board member in charge of F1 operations. He added that the auto companies would not deal with the German group: “I won't buy from Kirch. I don't know Kirch and I'm not interested in Kirch.”

The Ecclestone family trust, which is opposed to the Kirch deal, has a veto on sales of SLEC stock to broadcasters. What effect the use of this veto will have on Kirch’s rescue deal with EM.TV remains to be seen – the F1 rights are thought to have been a major factor behind its interest.

News source: BBC Online Business News (UK); Wall Street Journal