Ecclestone looks to buy back rights to Formula One

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The Independent Online

Bernie Ecclestone, the former supremo of Formula One, is attempting to make a killing by buying back control of the television rights to the sport from the struggling German media group Kirch for less than half the amount it originally paid him.

Reports from Germany last night said that Mr Ecclestone planned to buy Kirch's 58.3 per cent stake in Formula One for €800m (£488m). Mr Ecclestone sold a controlling 25 per cent stake in the sport to Kirch and its German partner EM.TV a year ago for $1bn (£700m). A year before that he sold 50 per cent of his holding company SLEC to EM.TV for $1.6bn.

German media reports said that Mr Ecclestone, whose family trust still owns 25 per cent of Formula One, planned to bring the car companies DaimlerChrysler and Fiat on board once he had bought back the Kirch stake.

The motor manufacturers, who now hold direct stakes in Grand Prix racing teams, have long been concerned at the rights to Formula One being owned by pay television companies, fearing it would reduce the audience for the sport and therefore attendances at Grand Prix races. Kirch is attempting to restructure debts of $5bn to keep its media empire afloat. It is believed to be near a deal to sell its 40 per cent stake in Axel Springer Verlag, publisher of the popular German newspaper Die Bild, to a consortium of German banks including Hypovereinsbank and Dresdner and is also in talks about selling its stake in Spain's Telecino to Mediaset, the media group owned by the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

Neither Kirch nor Mr Ecclestone would comment on the reports last night.