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News Corp., Exor Make ‘Friendly’ Approach for Formula 1 Series

Formula One Chief Executive Officer Bernie Ecclestone
Formula One Chief Executive Officer Bernie Ecclestone. Photographer: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images

News Corp. and Exor SpA, the Agnelli family’s investment company, are exploring the possibility of a bid for the Formula One auto-racing competition.

The pair is seeking other investors to back a bid, although a formal offer may not be made, they said in a joint statement yesterday. Formula One owner CVC Capital Partners Ltd. said it had received a “friendly” approach from the group, which acknowledges that the series is privately owned and “not currently for sale.”

“CVC recognizes the quality of Exor and News Corporation as potential investors, but any investment in Formula One will require CVC’s agreement and will need to demonstrate that it is in the interest of the sport and its stakeholders, taken as a whole,” CVC said in an e-mailed statement.

CVC, a London-based private equity company, took control of the most-watched motor sport by buying a 14 percent stake from Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in 2005. It purchased the holdings of Bayerische Landesbank, Formula One Chief Executive Officer Bernie Ecclestone and JPMorgan Chase & Co. the previous year.

James Murdoch, News Corp.’s deputy chief operating officer, informed CVC that the approach is “friendly” and “at a very preliminary stage,” CVC added.

Exor and News Corp. said they want to design a plan “for the long-term development of Formula One in the interests of the participants and the fans of this sport.”

Ferrari Link

Turin, Italy-based Exor is the biggest shareholder in carmaker Fiat SpA, with a stake of about 30 percent. Exor also controls soccer team Juventus SpA and is the largest shareholder in truck-maker Fiat Industrial SpA. Exor Chairman John Elkann also serves as Fiat’s chairman.

Fiat owns sports-car maker Ferrari SpA, the oldest team in Formula One, which hosts Grand Prix races from Monaco to Melbourne. Ferrari competes for the constructors’ championship with automakers including Renault SA and Daimler AG’s Mercedes and the sport has attracted team owners like U.K.-based billionaire Richard Branson and Indian liquor magnate Vijay Mallya.

On April 20, Sky News reported that the media company was trying to get Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim to participate in making an offer.

News Corp. would be unable to buy Formula One because of a promise to the European Commission to keep the series on free-to-air television, Ecclestone was cited as saying by The Independent on April 30. Ecclestone told the newspaper that he values Formula One at $6 billion to $7 billion.

CVC “are not interested in selling,” Ecclestone said in a telephone interview yesterday.

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