What is behind Murdoch's plot to grab the wheel at Formula One?

Rupert Murdoch has his eyes on Formula One. His News Corp media empire has made its first noises about how it might gain control of motor racing, probably the most high-profile and lucrative sporting property outside of its grasp.

News of what are being described as "embryonic" talks with potential investors, including Carlos Slim, the world's richest man, coincide with the 20th anniversary yesterday of Sky Sports. During the past two decades British sports fans have grown used to watching Mr Murdoch's money transform football, rugby, cricket and boxing.

Sky's interest in motor sport has been largely confined to the small-town pastime of speedway, while the BBC pulled off something of a coup by securing the rights to broadcast the fabulous global drama that is F1. Those rights began in 2009 and run for five years. Last year's competition, which went to the final race, was one of the most thrilling, and drew greater audiences.

But beyond 2013, Mr Murdoch senses, there may be opportunities. News Corp yesterday refused to "comment on speculation". But sources within the company confirmed the interest. One said that News Corp was looking at "opportunities" and acknowledged that F1 was an "interesting business".

The news comes at a sensitive time. News Corp is still in the process of acquiring the 61 per cent of shares in BSkyB that it does not currently own. The Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has recommended regulatory approval of the bid but the final decision is still subject to consultation and is expected next week after Parliament's Easter recess. The bid has prompted comment that News Corp is too dominant in the British media and its interest in F1 will also provide a further reminder to BSkyB shareholders of the value of the broadcaster. News Corp is seeking to persuade them to accept £8bn for the outstanding shares.

James Murdoch, non-executive chairman and former CEO of BSkyB, was recently relocated to New York to become No 3 in his father's empire. He is said to have been involved in some of the discussions with potential partners in acquiring F1.

Yesterday the idea that News Corp was going to buy F1 was dismissed by Bernie Ecclestone, who founded the international network of Grand Prix races. "It's rubbish. The sport's not for sale," he said. "Anyway, we wouldn't sell to a media company because it would restrict the ability to negotiate with other broadcasters."

At 80, Mr Ecclestone is the same age as Mr Murdoch and a similarly canny negotiator. But F1 is not his to sell. The real owners of the business are the private equity group CVC Capital Partners, who paid $2.5bn (£1.5bn) for F1 in 2005. CVC will be looking for a return on that investment and the Concorde Agreement, through which F1's governing body and its motor-racing teams negotiate the deals that generate the sport's commercial revenues, is due for renewal at the end of 2012. News Corp has not approached CVC.

But sources close to News Corp were yesterday seeking to imply that F1 needs to appeal to a younger interaudience, for instance by exploiting social networks. Who better to oversee that modernisation than one of the world's largest media conglomerates? The notion that F1 has become a sport for an older audience will surprise the BBC, which has invested a lot of effort into offering coverage on different media platforms. Last weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, was broadcast on BBC1 and Radio 5 Live with red-button television coverage of the practice and qualifying races. Lewis Hamilton's win was also shown on the BBC website, with a live text commentary and a video blog from veteran commentator Murray Walker.

Some sports fans will be distressed by the possibility of F1 leaving terrestrial television for BSkyB in the same way as Ashes Test matches and Ryder Cup golf. But the innovations that BSkyB – aided by News Corp's financial muscle – has introduced to the Premier League, in particular, indicate that motor-racing coverage could be further enhanced.

The F1 teams head to Istanbul for the Turkish Grand Prix on 8 May. Hamilton will be hoping to beat his German rival Sebastian Vettel to pole position on the grid. But, away from the spotlight, there are other contenders positioning themselves for a shot at grabbing the F1 crown.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Development Manager - NW London - £58k + 15% bonus

£50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

£13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Day In a Page

Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace