Racing supremo Bernie Ecclestone said he expects a controlling stake in the Formula One racing group to be sold by March 2016.
In an exclusive Handelsblatt interview, Mr. Ecclestone, the still sprightly 85-year-old chief executive of the Formula One Group, said that the company’s main investor, CVC, will decide whether or not to sell by the next racing season. CVC currently controls the global billion-dollar racing business and holds a 35.5 percent controlling stake in Formula One’s marketing rights.
“I think they will make up their mind in the next few months,” Mr. Ecclestone said in the interview. “I hope before the start of the 2016 championship in March, we’ll have decided if we sell – or not.”
Mr. Ecclestone said there were several parties interested in the $8 billion car-racing business, but added: “There are probably only four people who could buy it. Only they have the amount of money.”
Formula One is a high stakes, glamor business that has run into a spate of problems in recent years. Mr. Ecclestone presides over a complex web of partnerships and deals, but many critics say the system is too unwieldy and needs restructuring.
“Formula One is becoming too expensive for many teams”
This may happen under a new owner. Mr. Ecclestone was vague about his own future at Formula One if the sale went ahead. “I don’t know if I will stay at the top” after a potential sale, he said. “It depends who buys. Let’s wait and see.”
Mr. Ecclestone admits there is a need for reform. He is presiding over a dispute involving Red Bull, which sponsors its own team in Formula One but is threatening to quit the race because it is unhappy with the quality of its Renault engine.
Red Bull and Renault, which had been a winning combination for years, parted ways after a set of disappointing races, but were forced back together after Formula One’s other engine makers, Mercedes, Ferrari, and Honda, refused to give the Red Bull team their most competitive engines, which they already provide to its rivals.
Mr. Ecclestone said it would be “nice to see Red Bull with a competitive engine, whatever it is.”
He added. “What I would like to see is that the people in our business are a little bit more sensible and not so selfish. They should think more about the business they are in.”
Mr. Ecclestone said the solution may be to change the rules, and introduce a cheaper engine – the new hybrid engines are just too expensive.
Ferrari and Mercedes bitterly oppose the suggestion: Each has invested heavily in engines that perform on Formula One courses, and they do not want the rules to be diluted. The sport’s governing body, FIA, has decided to postpone a decision until 2018.
But Mr. Ecclestone said he believed “Formula One is becoming too expensive for many teams,” and that any way of reducing costs would help the sport.
Mr. Ecclestone said he would like to see more carmakers, including Volkswagen, in Formula One.
The discord deepened after Renault threatened to leave Formula One over a dispute with Mr. Ecclestone about bonus payments for past successes.
Mr. Ecclestone said he believed the situation with Renault could be resolved in a few days. “We came up with some solutions for them,” the chief executive said, adding: “I hope there will be a solution by the end of the week.”
Carsten Herz is Handelsblatt’s London correspondent and reports on British and Irish corporations. Meera Selva is an editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition. To contact the authors: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org