ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone dismissed speculation about possible takeovers and rival series on Saturday as ‘normal foreplay’ to a new commercial agreement with teams and the governing body.
“There have been enough times people have wanted to do a breakaway and they haven’t succeeded up until now,” the 80-year-old told reporters at the Turkish Grand Prix when asked whether he was worried about the prospect of that re-emerging.
“We’ve had five or six ‘Concorde Agreements’ and there are always these sort of discussions going on beforehand. It’s normal foreplay before these things happen.”
The ‘Concorde Agreement’ between the commercial rights holders CVC, the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) and teams expires at the end of next year. It is a lengthy and confidential legal document that sets out the commercial basis of the sport and division of revenues.
After a largely quiet 2010 where the racing was the main focus of attention, the paddock has again become a hotbed of intrigue with speculation about the future of the sport and what the main players are doing behind the scenes.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and Italian financial holding EXOR, which controls Ferrari through FIAT, have teamed up to explore the “possibility of creating a consortium” that could run the sport.
They plan to talk to potential minority partners and the main operators. Shareholders, who would include investment funds from Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, in the big four teams are expected to meet them next week.
Some in the paddock have speculated that, with News Corp as owner and promoter, the teams could go off and do their own thing to take control of the sport’s revenues should any attempt to buy the rights from CVC be rebuffed or fall through.
Others see the rumblings as all part of a familiar game to exert pressure and extract better terms from Ecclestone in negotiations on a new agreement.
“They’ll have to approach the people that own the shares and buy the shares won’t they?,” Ecclestone said when asked about the teams’ desire to become stakeholders. “That’s what normally happens.
“I go normally to a restaurant in London two or three times a week, not a lot of point in me going and saying to the owners that I want a share of the restaurant just because I eat there.
“These people are going to look bloody stupid with all their trucks and their uniforms if they’ve got nowhere to race. It’s the same if I go to the restaurant and they’ve got no food to serve me.”
Ecclestone, who has said Murdoch chances of taking over Formula One are “close to zero,” also enjoyed a dig at News Corp’s attempts to buy the 61 percent of London-based broadcaster BSkyB that it does not already own.
“They’ve been doing that for three years, so they’ve got plenty of practice of doing things and not succeeding,” he said. “Trying and doing are two different thing”
Editing by Kevin Fylan