Teams target Formula 1 ownership stake

Formula 1 team principals
The F1 team principals are in Turkey for the fourth grand prix of the season

Formula 1's teams want to get involved in the ownership of the sport, according to Martin Whitmarsh, chairman of their umbrella group Fota.

F1's ownership has become a hot topic after News Corporation and Italian firm Exon said they were working on a bid.

But Whitmarsh, who is also McLaren team boss, said: "Ultimately it is desirable to have team ownership of the rights."

Whitmarsh added Fota was likely to insist on F1 being shown on free-to-air channels to maximise its audience.

F1's current owners, the private equity group CVC Capital Partners, gained a controlling interest in the sport in 2006 when it paid £1.8bn for the rights.

The teams have long voiced their frustration that CVC, who claim for themselves half of F1's annual profits of £600m, do not pump a penny of that money back into the sport.

However, Whitmarsh has now floated the idea that the 12 teams would like to take ownership of the sport they contest.

"Ultimately it is desirable to have team ownership of the commercial rights," he said at the Turkish Grand Prix.

"We, the teams, all have to look at whether we 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.

"The teams want to ensure first and foremost that we have stability.

"The teams want to ensure that the sport is sustainable and, to be sustainable, you need appropriate investment in the future, the appropriate distribution of the revenue to the teams.

"To most [of the teams], who owns [Formula 1] isn't the biggest concern."

Renault team principal Eric Boullier added: "It's a new era for Formula 1.

"Manufacturers were here for 10 years and the core business of manufacturers was to build road cars not F1.

"Today most of the teams on the grid are private companies and our core business is F1.

"So our view is completely different to the previous players and, yes, I think we should be involved in some way in the ownership of the show and we should have a key role in promoting F1."

F1 would come with an expensive price-tag and many of the teams are known to be struggling to raise the budgets they need to race in a difficult financial climate.

But, as Boullier points out, the teams have backers who make their money elsewhere but see the sport as a useful marketing tool.

For example, Renault itself is now largely owned by the Genii Capital investment group, champions Red Bull are funded by the energy drink empire and Mercedes are owned by car heavyweight Daimler.

However, when it comes to the ownership of F1 Bernie Ecclestone, who runs F1 on behalf of CVC, insisted last month the sport was not for sale.

"Personally, I know CVC don't want to sell, so it's going to be a bit difficult," said Ecclestone. "I can see CVC in for the long haul, absolutely, 100%."

And on Tuesday the 80-year-old questioned the likelihood of a News Corp bid succeeding.

One of the sticking points for Rupert Murdoch's News Corp is that under the current Concorde Agreement - a commercial arrangement involving the teams, CVC and the sport's governing body, the FIA - F1 must not be shown only on pay TV in major territories.

Whitmarsh said that because of the sport's desire to reach a wide global audience that would have to remain in place.

"People are saying what about pay-to-view? The business model of the teams is currently structured on having a mass exposure of the moving pictures that we generate," he said.

"It used to be called free-to-air and I think whatever happens going forward, I'm sure the teams will insist it is free-to-air in all the major markets.

"Effectively we need a model where F1 remains the third largest spectacle in the world in terms of live television audience (behind the World Cup and the Olympics)."

However, some commentators believe that F1 would benefit from a move to Murdoch's TV channels.

Whitmarsh denied reports that the top four teams - Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull and Mercedes - were planning a meeting with News Corp executives in the near future.

"I'm not aware of any meeting with News Corp," he said.

A Fota meeting is scheduled for Sunday morning in Istanbul and a potential takeover will be one of several topics on the agenda.

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