F1 teams threaten float delay

Leading Grand Prix teams are threatening to hold up the high- profile flotation of the Formula One motor racing business until the autumn in a dispute over the size of the share stake allocated to the constructors.

The top teams, led by Williams and McLaren, are unhappy with the 10 per cent stake in the floated company to be distributed among the constructors under proposals drawn up by Salomon Brothers, the US investment bank. The issue is understood to be far from settled, despite recent briefings given to City analysts by Salomon's suggesting that the final obstacles had been resolved.

Bernie Ecclestone, owner of the hugely profitable promotional empire, is understood to be locked in discussions with team bosses including Frank Williams and Ron Dennis, head of McLaren, with both sides apparently preferring to negotiate personally. The teams are demanding a much larger share in the floated company, which could be worth between pounds 1.4bn and pounds 2bn.

Mr Ecclestone's current plan is to offer half the shares to the public, retaining 30 per cent of the company for himself and leaving 10 per cent stakes for the teams and the sport's Paris-based governing body, the FIA. The teams are thought to be pushing to emerge with closer to 20 per cent of the business, leaving Mr Ecclestone with a similar-sized stake.

A source close to the discussions said yesterday: "Ecclestone and Salomon's are using the media to negotiate. But behind the scenes things are far from concluded." The source added: "Frank Williams and Ron Dennis are in no hurry to sort this out. The one thing Bernie requires is their co- operation, but no one can understand why he is so keen to get the float away over the summer."

Another problem remains the allocation of earnings from world-wide television rights, which are under the sole control of Mr Ecclestone's business. Williams, McLaren and Tyrrell, were thought finally to have agreed to sign up to the Concorde Agreement which divides up the rights. However, several issues are understood to be outstanding which could be crucial to the success of the float. One suggestion is that teams may decide to share out individual stakes in Formula One using the same formula as Concorde, details of which are secret.

Salomon's had hoped to produce a prospectus on the float as early as this week, but it would be almost impossible to produce a document before negotiations are concluded. A spokeswoman for Formula One declined to comment on the talks.

The problems have come as Salomon's prepares to fly selected analysts to Barcelona this weekend for the Spanish Grand Prix. The visit has already raised eyebrows in the City because only analysts working for securities houses acting as sub-underwriters to the float have been invited.

Comment, page 25

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