Possible problems on the horizon as F1 feels the pinch


In one of the most direct ways possible F1 has today been dealt a hefty blow courtesy of the credit crunch and as Pitpass business reporter Chris Sylt explains, it could have a big impact on the balance of power in the sport.

The blow is down to the US bank Lehman Brothers which went bankrupt this morning as a result of having given numerous loans to the riskiest sector of the mortgage market in the States. As punters failed to make repayments, Lehman went into the red announcing last week that it had lost 2.2 billion in the past three months. And although the US housing market and F1 seem completely unconnected, the link is much closer than you may think.

After CVC, the finance firm which majority owns F1, Lehman Brothers is the sport's second biggest shareholder and has nearly double the number of shares held by F1's boss Bernie Ecclestone and his family trust. To be precise, Lehman Brothers owns 16.8% of shares in Delta Topco - the company which ultimately owns the commercial rights to F1. The question is what happens next.

Lehman Brothers is expected to go into Chapter 11 bankruptcy which is likely to put the company in the hands of its creditors and see its assets sold off to bring money in. It could be the ideal time for someone, such as Ecclestone or CVC, to snap the shares up for a song.

However, if there are multiple bidders for the shares it could force the price up and one wonders whether CVC would want to invest more in F1 having spent so much to buy the sport and its associated companies. The alternative could be that it finds itself with a co-investor who might have a different idea of the best direction to take the sport in. Although CVC has full control of the sport it has enjoyed a situation so far where all its partners in F1 were in harmony. This is something it may not want to change.

This isn't the first time that a stake in F1 has ended up in the hands of creditors. In fact Lehman Brothers is the third company which has had a stake in F1 and gone bust. German media firm EM.TV, which also owned the rights to the Muppets, held a 75% stake before going bankrupt, as did its successor, an even-bigger media business called Kirch. CVC bought its F1 shares from Kirch's creditor banks so Lehman Brothers now seems to be a case of history repeating.

Perhaps ironically, Steve Koltes, one of CVC's founders, is quoted in the German press today saying "we have many businesses which are relatively independent of economic factors, such as Formula 1." He might not be so sure of that if Lehmans' F1 shares end up in the hands of an entity with which CVC would rather not have as a partner.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 15/09/2008
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