The future of Bernie Ecclestone has been one of the biggest talking points in recent weeks. Next month he will be put on trial in Munich for paying an alleged bribe to steer the sale of F1 to the private equity firm CVC in 2006. Although Ecclestone stepped down from the board of F1's parent company Delta Topco when the trial was announced in January he still runs the sport on a day to day basis and holds a 5.3% stake in it. However, that could all change as Ecclestone has revealed he will sell his shares in F1 when CVC exits the business according to an article in the Daily Telegraph by Christian Sylt.
"If I sell I would sell with CVC. If somebody wants to buy CVC's shares but doesn't need mine then I will keep them," says Ecclestone. His shares have an estimated value of $636m so they are far from small fry even though they aren't likely to dramatically increase his family's estimated $4bn fortune.
CVC currently holds a 35% stake in F1 and planned to exit in a flotation on the Singapore stock exchange in 2012. The eurozone crisis put the brakes on this and it has had a red light since then due to the bribery charges which Ecclestone denies.
Last week one of F1's minority shareholders, Norway's $840bn Norges oil fund, voiced concerns over the delays to the float and Ecclestone's upcoming trial. Norges is the world's largest sovereign wealth fund and can only buy a stake in an unlisted company, such as F1, if it plans to float. F1's flotation was cancelled three weeks after Norges invested $300m to buy its 4.5% stake on 11 May 2012.
Fund director Yngve Slyngstad told the business daily Dagens Naeringsliv that the deal remains within the mandate of the fund because "the intention is still to list the company quickly when it is possible to do so." However he admitted that Norges "have made a mistake" and may try to offload its stake.
"They are right. They are not allowed to buy private companies," says Ecclestone. F1 has already been a lucrative investment as Norges scooped up $93m from a dividend in 2012 and its stake is understood to be worth around $100m more than it paid for it.
Despite the bribery scandal engulfing the sport, it is nearly 18 months since an F1 stake changed hands. In 2012 Pitpass revealed that F1's third biggest shareholder, the estate of collapsed investment bank Lehman Brothers, had filed documents which indicate that it may have to sell its 12.3% holding by 30 June this year to pay its creditors. However, a source close to CVC suggests that it wants to retain it for longer as its value is accelerating. Testimony to this, F1's revenues have increased by 31.7% over the past five years to $1.6bn with net profits of $378m.
"Lehman had the opportunity to sell lots of times," says Ecclestone. "Lots of people tried to buy those shares and they won't sell. Maybe they would sell at an over-rated price. The obvious thing is for them to sell along with CVC too."
CVC has right of first refusal if any of F1's minority shareholders want to sell. It is understood to have held early stage talks with American media mogul John Malone's Liberty Global which has teamed up with Discovery Communications to consider a takeover of Delta Topco.
F1 is one of CVC's most profitable assets. It has already generated a return of more than 350% from CVC's initial $2bn investment which was funded with $1.1bn of debt from the Royal Bank of Scotland. As Pitpass recently revealed, CVC needs to sell up by 2018 so Ecclestone too could exit by then too.
However, as Pitpass has also reported one of the hurdles to be surmounted is that RBS needs to give its consent if any company takes over F1 so, as always in the sport, nothing is a racing certainty.