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News Corp eyes F1

April 20, 2011

By Colin Mann

News Corp is understood to be considering joining a consortium bid for Formula One Grand Prix motor racing, reports the Financial Times, quoting people familiar with the matter.

The sport has been owned since 2005 by CVC Capital Partners. Although there has been no indication that the private equity group is looking to sell, there has been talk in F1 circles about potential buyers, should it decide to do so.

News Corp would not comment on what was described as a “very speculative” report by Sky News that it had held talks about an F1 bid with one or more of the sport’s manufacturers and with Carlos Slim, the Mexican telecoms magnate who controls América Móvil.

According to a person familiar with the company’s thinking, there was a strong likelihood that its “tyre-kicking” would not result in a bid. The company is understood to have ruled out a solo bid and would only consider an offer with partners. América Móvil also had no comment.

Although News Corp could become an international broadcast partner in any resultant consortium, sponsors would be keen to ensure that the sport continued to be available to the highest possible audience via free-to-air broadcasters.

The extent of any News Corp investment would depend on whether it completed its planned bid for full ownership of BSkyB, and at what price. CVC paid $1.7 billion to the banks that controlled F1 after the collapse of the previous owner Kirch, and would no doubt seek a higher sum.

Despite the speculation, Bernie Ecclestone, F1’s chief executive, told the Daily Telegraph: “It’s rubbish. The sport is not for sale.”

Any deal could be complicated by an ongoing inquiry by German prosecutors into an alleged $50 million bribe paid to Gerhard Gribkowsky, a banker who facilitated the sale of F1 to CVC. No charges have so far been made, with CVC and Ecclestone denying any knowledge of the alleged bribe.

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