$2bn bond raises flag on F1 float

THE FLOTATION of Formula One was back on the starting grid yesterday when the motor racing company announced a $2bn Eurobond issue as a prelude to a stock market listing.

The move comes more than a year after Formula One abandoned plans for a pounds 2bn flotation following disagreements with some of the top racing teams that compete in the Grand Prix.

A Formula One company spokesman said yesterday that a new agreement had been signed last year with the teams that would run until 2007.

The plan is to float the business "as soon as is practicable" which is likely to be in two to three years. "We see the bond offering as a very sensible way of paving the way for a stock market listing. It gives the City the chance to get to know the company, and the company the chance to get know the City," the spokesman said.

The company was confident that there would be sufficient institutional appetite for the bonds despite volatile stock markets. Its advisers felt that bonds were currently more attractive than equity, and that Formula One's bonds would be backed by secure cash flow from its television deals.

Formula One is making changes to its board, which is currently dominated by Bernie Ecclestone, the motor racing entrepreneur whose family trust controls the entire company. He will remain as chief executive both before and after the float.

Helmut Werner, the former chairman of Daimler Benz, is joining Formula One as non-executive chairman. Marco Piccinini, a banker who used to run the Ferrari Grand Prix team, will be a non-executive director.

Formula One said Mr Ecclestone was not a direct shareholder or beneficiary in the trust. The main beneficiaries were his wife and children as a result of changes made for inheritance tax purposes.

The company has jettisoned Salomon Smith Barney, which advised on the previous float attempt. It has now hired Morgan Stanley which will start marketing the bonds in the next few days.

The company said it was confident that Formula One could make the transition from an entrepreneurial company not used to disclosing information, to a more transparent publicly quoted entity. The company is also confident that the City will accept Mr Ecclestone as a chief executive. .

Formula One said yesterday that it is "committed to free to air" television coverage of its events. However, it is looking to develop pay-per-view free coverage, but would offer "added value" elements such as "in car cameras", pit lane coverage, and no advertising breaks.

Formula One's viewing audience has grown rapidly in the last few years. The company feels there is scope for expansion into China, Africa and the US.