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Over the past few weeks we have heard all about perceived threats to Formula One's planned stock market flotation. There's the theory that the sport's boss Bernie Ecclestone will be charged following the allegation that he bribed F1's former chairman Gerhard Gribkowsky. Then there's speculation that Mercedes won't sign a new Concorde Agreement to stay in F1 after the end of 2012, allegedly due to bias in the contract towards its rivals.
Pitpass recently debunked the significance of the former threat and although Mercedes has not signed a new Concorde Agreement, the significance of this is put in perspective through an article in today's Telegraph written by our business editor Christian Sylt. It reveals that F1's controlling shareholder, the private equity firm CVC, is on track to make a return of more than 600% regardless of whether the sport floats. It makes F1 one of the most successful private equity deals in history.
Turmoil on the world's markets has put the brakes on F1's flotation which is expected to value the business at £6.4bn ($10bn). However, last week Ecclestone stressed that the float has not been derailed by recent allegations that he bribed Gribkowsky to wave through the sale of the sport to CVC in 2006. Ecclestone confirmed that the float will take place by the end of this year but CVC has no need to rush.
CVC is the largest shareholder in F1's parent company Delta Topco but over the past six months it has cut its stake by around half to 35.5%. In January US investment fund Waddell & Reed paid £641.8m ($1bn) for a 13.9% stake in Delta Topco. It was followed by US money manager BlackRock and Norges, the investment division of Norway's central bank, which together paid £385m ($600m) to get a combined stake of 7.4% in May.
Earlier this month CVC announced that Waddell & Reed has invested a further £320.9m ($500m) taking its stake to 20.9%. The sale put a £4.6bn ($7.1bn) value on F1's equity and, combined with its £192.5m ($300m) of cash and £1.4bn ($2.2bn) of debt, gives the business a capitalisation of around £5.8bn ($9bn). However, the sale doesn't change the control of F1 because, as Sylt has revealed, CVC's shares entitle it to appoint representatives, known as I Directors, who can outvote any number of other board members.
Through selling just 28.3% of F1 CVC has already made £1.3bn ($2.1bn) which is more than double what it paid to buy the business. It bought F1 in 2006 with £706m ($1.1bn) of debt from the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and a loan from its investment Fund IV which, according to CVC had funds of £4,659m ($7,260m) in it. Material produced by CVC (pdf link) two years after it bought F1 shows that its investment in F1 came to 13.3% of the total amount in Fund IV which puts the loan at around £619m ($965m). It was a big gamble as F1's teams were threatening to set up their own series due to a dispute over the amount of prize money they received.
Private equity firms are not renowned for building up businesses but this is exactly what has happened since CVC took over F1. To ease the gridlock with the teams Ecclestone brought all of F1's key companies under one roof. Flush with the bank debt and loan from its fund, CVC bought F1's trackside advertising and corporate hospitality divisions then acquired the sport's feeder GP2 and set up GP3 as a grass roots entry level series.
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