Formula One could be sold this year, says Ecclestone

Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone has said there are three interested buyers in the motor racing series, adding it could be sold this year.

While he did not identify the potential owners, Ecclestone told the Associated Press news agency that he wants to retain his current role of running F1 on a day-to-day basis. Formula One has been surrounded by speculation over its future ownership in recent months.

Donald Mackenzie, co-chairman of Formula One’s commercial rights-holder and main shareholder CVC Capital Partners in July maintained it was under no pressure to sell its controlling stake in the series. CVC’s stake currently amounts to 35.5 per cent and RSE Ventures, which owns the Miami Dolphins NFL American football franchise, has previously been linked with a partnership with the Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) arm of the Middle Eastern state to lodge a bid of between $7bn (€6.3bn) and $8bn for the private equity fund’s interest. Pan-European broadcast group Sky and telecommunications firm Liberty have also been linked to informal discussions with CVC.

When asked about the prospect of F1 being sold this year, Ecclestone told the AP: “I think so, maybe this year. There are three people mentioned to buy. So it's a case of whether CVC or Mr. Mackenzie wants to sell.”

Ecclestone earlier this year raised the prospect of buying back F1 himself. The 84-year-old currently holds a 5.3 per cent stake in the sport. “We'll see,” Ecclestone said when asked if he was one of the three interested parties. Speaking earlier on Tuesday at the Camp Beckenbauer Global Summit in Austria, Ecclestone had stated: “There has been a lot of interest. I am surprised if one of them doesn't buy very shortly.”

CVC cut its F1 interest from about 63 per cent to 35.5 per cent in 2012 through two separate deals. In June 2012, Waddell & Reed increased its stake in the business from 14.4 per cent to 20.9 per cent in a $500m deal. The agreement with the American asset management company was announced after CVC sold a 21-per-cent stake in the company for $1.6bn in May 2012 ahead of its mooted IPO on the Singapore Stock Exchange.

That deal also involved Waddell & Reed, along with global investment manager BlackRock and Norway's Norges Bank. The planned IPO was eventually halted due to the effect of the Eurozone crisis on the global equity markets.

Ecclestone told the AP he is “very happy with the shareholders at the moment” and has no plans to retire. “The people that I've spoken to, the people who are interested in buying the shares, have asked me if I would stay,” Ecclestone said, adding that his answer was “Yes.”