Murdoch's News Corp eyeing F1 takeover

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Media group News Corporation has officially confirmed it plans to look into a joint takeover of Formula 1 with an Italian investment company that has close links to Fiat

After weeks of speculation about Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corporation's possible plans for F1, a statement issued by Italian investment group EXOR on Tuesday night revealed that early negotiations were underway.

EXOR stated that it planned to approach other stakeholders in the sport to consider how viable a takeover bid was, prior to making any approach to F1's current owners - CVC Capital Partners - or its commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone.

The statement said: "EXOR, one of Europe's largest listed investment companies, and News Corporation, the global media group, confirm that they are in the early stages of exploring the possibility of creating a consortium with a view to formulating a long-term plan for the development of Formula 1 in the interests of the participants and the fans.

"Over the coming weeks and months, EXOR and News Corporation will approach potential minority partners and key stakeholders in the sport. There can be no certainty that this will lead to an approach to Formula 1's current owners."

EXOR's involvement is intriguing because the company is headed by John Elkann, chairman and chief executive of Ferrari's parent company Fiat.

Furthermore, EXOR is controlled by the Agnelli family - which has long had close ties to Ferrari. The company owns a 30 per cent stake in the Fiat company as well as a 60 per cent interest in Juventus Football Club.

The official statement by EXOR and News Corporation comes just days after Ecclestone said that the chances of a takeover by Murdoch's business interests was 'close to zero.'

"It's media driven," he told Reuters. "It looks very much like someone who is trying to see if they can make (money). All of these people that get involved with these things, they get some victims and say 'We can make this happen, I'm sure we can do this' and then all they do is keep pumping fees in."

When asked about the possibility of F1 moving onto a pay-TV platform, Ecclestone said: "If, and I think the chances are close to zero, but if Murdoch was to buy certainly he'd have to broadcast some free to air like it is now."

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News Corp and their Formula One bid partner Exor will need to find ?7bn if they are to buy F1, former team owner Eddie Jordan has claimed.

Speaking on Jeff Randall Live, Mr Jordan said the sport had grown beyond his wildest dreams in Asia, and that it would command a hefty price if it is sold, as expected, some time in the next 12 months.

The approach from News Corp and the Italian investment firm Exor is "friendly" and at a "very preliminary stage" according to F1 owners CVC, who have not officially put the sport up for sale.

Sky's Mark Kleinman revealed that despite this, the approach is to be considered by Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull Racing in secret talks later this month.

Mr Jordan said it was "complimentary to the sport" that News Corp head Rupert Murdoch had shown his interest.

But he added: "Let's be clear, Formula One is fuelled by money."

Mr Murdoch, whose News Corp has a 39% stake in Sky News owner BSkyB, and is trying to buy the remaining shares, would need to prove he can deliver guaranteed income and longevity, said Mr Jordan, a BBC F1 commentator.

"Sky has got to put on the table where they think they can match the equivalent of the BBC," he claimed.

"And at this moment in time it's hard to see where that is."

Mr Jordan also praised the leadership of F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, who he said had "delivered to each and every one of the teams financial stability".

Mark Kleinman reported that the executives from the four leading racing teams would meet in Stuttgart some time in the next ten days to hold discussions about the sport's ownership.

They will also look at forthcoming negotiations about a new commercial rights agreement as well as a range of technical sporting issues.

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