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The business side of Formula One has a lot of question marks hanging over it at the moment. It looks like the planned flotation of the business on the Singapore stock market will take place later this year due to the current turbulence on the world's stock markets. However, all the groundwork for the float has already been done. Over the past six months new investors have bought in to the sport and a new board of directors, including three representatives from the teams, is being put together. The big question on the lips of many industry observers is which of these developments will still go ahead even if F1 never floats as some seem to think is the most likely outcome.
The biggest decision which is set in stone, float or no float, is the involvement of the new investors. Three funds, Waddell & Reed, BlackRock and Norges, own a total of 21.3% of F1 whether or not it floats. They are here to stay as it seems is F1's new non-executive chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe.
Over the Monaco Grand Prix weekend it came to light that he had already taken over and was participating in an F1 board meeting. Brabeck arrived with a bang as one of his first public comments was that the float "is certainly something we are going to look at over the next 3-6 months but there is no set timetable." This came as a huge contrast to the previous talk about the float being a done deal and Brabeck said it days before F1's boss Bernie Ecclestone revealed that F1 is unlikely to list soon due to the stock market turbulence.
It is harder to say whether the representatives of Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull will definitely join the F1 board as this appears to be dependent on them signing the Concorde Agreement, the contract which commits the teams to F1. Although they have signed an agreement to sign the Concorde they haven't yet put pen to paper on the full contract and we cannot be sure that they will.
One change which has not yet come to light but is indeed set in stone is that F1's company structure has been reorganised in preparation for the float whether it takes place or not. Until recently, F1 had two parent companies: Delta Topco and Delta Prefco. The former owns ordinary equity shares in the entire F1 business whilst the latter owned preference shares in the sport's trackside advertising and sponsorship outfits as well as in GP2 and GP3. Pitpass revealed the existence of Delta Prefco last year and there is good reason why our piece referred to it as 'F1's most important company'.
Owners of ordinary shares get a dividend (a share of profits) based on the number of shares they own in a company. However, holders of preference shares get a fixed dividend which must be paid out before any ordinary dividends can be paid. It is no surprise that preference shares are owned in the trackside advertising and sponsorship division in particular since it generates some of the biggest profits in F1.
Revenue from race hosting fees incurs high directly associated costs of transporting camera crews to the Grands Prix whilst corporate hospitality income has huge food and beverage expenses attached to it. In contrast, the trackside advertising and sponsorship division, which made £142.5m ($225m) in revenue last year, has minimal overheads with one of the biggest being paying people to put up hoardings around the tracks. Even this isn't done in-house and to avoid F1 having more people on its pay-roll it is instead sub-contracted to a company called Publibelgium.
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