Ecclestone fuels F1 float doubts

Bernie Ecclestone, chief executive of Formula One Holdings, has admitted that he considered abandoning the flotation of the Grand Prix group after being "startled at the way the City operates".

However, amid complaints about the City's "over indulgence in process" which ran contrary to his entrepreneurial style, he re-affirmed his commitment to an initial public offering as his preferred course of action, though he would give no guidance on when the flotation would take place.

He also confirmed his backing for Salomon Brothers, the US investment bank which has been advising the float, saying it remained the exclusive financial adviser to the company.

A statement issued through Mr Ecclestone's legal adviser, Stephen Mullens, said: "In consultation with its financial adviser Salomon Brothers, my client has considered a number of alternatives. An initial public offering is my client's preferred course of action and progress is being made in preparing the company for flotation. No decision has ever been made with respect to timing. An announcement will be made in due course."

The commitment comes in spite of Mr Ecclestone's apparent frustration with lengthy City meetings which he felt were "not deeply productive".

The public backing of Salomon Brothers is designed to end speculation that BZW and SBC Warburg were trying to muscle in on Salomon's position as exclusive financial adviser to the float. Though both are part of the 18-strong syndicate of banks that is underwriting the float, any suggestions from BZW, SBC Warburg or any other banks will be evaluated by Salomon.

The backing comes after Salomon last week threatened to remove BZW from the syndicate after claims that it had been working on a proposal that would have involved BSkyB taking a stake in Formula One.

Last week, it also emerged that SBC Warburg had been asked to look on certain options available to Mr Ecclestone.

Plans for the flotation of Formula One, which is owned by family trusts of Mr Ecclestone's wife, first emerged in March.

Comment, page 21

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