Exclusive: F1 chairman puts brake on IPO talk

MONACO Fri May 25, 2012 12:53pm EDT

Formula One chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe (L) looks on next to Formula One commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone during the Monaco F1 Grand Prix May 25, 2012. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Formula One chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe (L) looks on next to Formula One commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone during the Monaco F1 Grand Prix May 25, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Max Rossi

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MONACO (Reuters) - Businessman Peter Brabeck, celebrating his appointment as Formula One chairman on Friday, said the motor racing series had not made a decision on whether to proceed with a much discussed $10 billion listing on the stock market in Singapore.

Speaking to Reuters over a trackside lunch with Formula One commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone also in attendance, Brabeck said the business had a plan in hand to replace the octogenarian Ecclestone but hoped it would not be needed for a number of years yet.

"He has a fantastic motivation. He has very good health," said Brabeck, who is chairman of Swiss food group Nestle and was confirmed in the Formula One role at a board meeting in Monaco on Friday.

"As Bernie has said, you can't replace Frank Sinatra but you can find another singer. One day we are going to find another singer and he or she will be different. The show will go on," added Brabeck, an Austrian.

The diminutive Briton Ecclestone has built up the Formula One business over the past 40 years, turning the current 20-race series into a money-spinner that is expected to produce revenues of $2 billion this year.

Life after the billionaire Ecclestone was seen as one of the risk factors for investors in any flotation. The appointment of heavyweight figures like Brabeck, who has had a small stake in the business for the last couple of years, to high profile roles was seen as underpinning its status.

Formula One has been given the green light to list in Singapore, with speculation of a market debut next month. However, market uncertainties and the turmoil surrounding the Facebook IPO are making its owners weigh their words carefully.

"It was the first time that the board had a report on the preparation, there was pre-valuation of the whole process. I think we made a step forwards but no decision has been taken," Brabeck said.

Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Switzerland's UBS have been hired to lead the IPO. The two U.S. houses have both faced a backlash over their role in the messy Facebook flotation.

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Private equity firm CVC Capital Partners unveiled a $1.6 billion deal this week to sell a 21 percent stake in the business to U.S. groups Waddell & Reed and BlackRock, along with Norway's Norges Bank Investment Management.

"If anything it has reduced the pressure or the need for an IPO or a next step and that's why the board looked at the IPO today as one option," Donald Mackenzie, managing partner at CVC told Reuters in the principality, where billionaires' yachts are moored alongside the famous street circuit.

"It's certainly something we are going to look at over the next 3-6 months but there is no set timetable," he added.

CVC now owns around 42 percent of Formula One and sources told Reuters this week it was looking to cut that to around 30 percent in a float. The estate of failed investment bank Lehman Brothers is also looking to cash in a 15 percent stake.

Ecclestone, in a dark suit and eating a late lunch of risotto after a lengthy board meeting, said he believed that the German Mercedes team would sign up to remain in the sport.

Mercedes have been unhappy with reports that Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren, the top three in the sport, would be offered future places on the board while it would miss out.

"I don't see any problem," Ecclestone said. "I'm a realist."

Teams are expected to sign up this year to a renewal of the so-called "Concorde Agreement" -- the long-term deal covering relations between Formula One, which owns the commercial rights for 98 years, the teams and the FIA, the sport's governing body.

Ecclestone brushed aside talk of differences with the FIA as minor and said he planned to meet FIA President Jean Todt over dinner on Friday.

Ecclestone said top sports like soccer, tennis and Formula One retained their appeal as an antidote to the grind of recession. Formula One draws television audiences of over 500 million for its fortnightly races, helping to support its valuation among sponsors and TV companies.

"When the world is bad, people want to escape," he said.

"I'm very proud of the job we do for TV, it's something good to watch."

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

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