Ecclestone Says News Corp. Not Only Group That Wants F-1

Formula One CEO Bernie Ecclestone
Formula One Chief Executive Officer Bernie Ecclestone. Photographer: Santi Burgos/Bloomberg

Formula One chief executive officer Bernie Ecclestone said other groups have made approaches about buying the series apart from prospective bidders News Corp. and the Agnelli family’s Exor SpA.

“There’s been other interest for quite some time,” Ecclestone said in a telephone interview, without providing details.

Ecclestone, 80, said he’d discussed the approach that News Corp. and Exor announced May 3 with Formula One owner CVC Capital Partners Ltd., although not with News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch. Ecclestone said CVC doesn’t want to sell unless there is a “bloody enormous” offer.

“I suppose the next stage is that they come back with an offer,” Ecclestone said, referring to News Corp and Exor.

He confirmed series ruling body, Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, has the right to veto a buyout. “I don’t but I could just walk out,” Ecclestone said.

If Ecclestone quit, it would “undermine” the series, according to Mark Jenkins, a professor of business strategy at the U.K.’s Cranfield University who has written a book about Formula One. Ecclestone has overseen the commercial arm of the sport since the 1980s.

“He has a very unique understanding of how this business works and the myriad of relationships and alliances that have been built up over the years,” Jenkins.

Ecclestone doesn’t hold a stake in the business, although his former wife and two daughters have a stake of less than 10 percent, he said in February.

The Paris-based FIA ceded the commercial rights to Formula One’s previous owners for a century in 2001. Its right of veto on buyouts has become known as the “Don King” clause as a joke because the sport wouldn’t want the boxing promoter running the business, former FIA president Max Mosley said.

The clause is “about having a suitable, proper person,” Mosley said in an interview. “From a personal point of view, I don’t think they’d be the right person,” Mosley said, referring to News Corp.

“There has been clear illegality” at News Corp.’s U.K. tabloid News of the World, Mosley said, citing phone hacking by reporters. In a separate privacy case, Mosley won a record 60,000-pound ($98,400) award in 2008 against the News of the World over a story that said he participated in a Nazi-themed sex party.

Actress Sienna Miller is among 20 celebrities and politicians suing News Corp. over the hacking scandal. The company apologized and offered to settle some of the cases last month after two journalists linked to the paper were arrested.

Alice Macandrew, a News Corp. spokeswoman, declined to comment on Ecclestone and Mosley’s comments.

Earlier today, team owner Frank Williams said News Corp and Exor would also need to win over teams as well as the FIA. The existing commercial deal between the teams and CVC expires after the 2012 season.

“It would be an Olympic-sized negotiation” if the bid goes ahead, Williams said in an interview in London.

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