Qatar in exclusive talks to buy Silverstone F1 circuit

Home of British Grand Prix looks to Middle East to fund extensive development plans

Caroline Reid
Sunday 23 October 2011 01:55

Harrods-owner Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) is on the verge of snapping up another British landmark as it is believed to have been made preferred bidder for Silverstone race track.

The British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC), which owns the circuit, has entered into exclusive talks with the sovereign wealth fund to lease the 850-acre Silverstone site for 150 years. The deal is expected to be worth up to £250m. The QIA was selected from a shortlist of interested parties drawn up by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

An investor is needed to cover the costs of redeveloping Silverstone, which opened a state-of-the-art pit and paddock complex earlier this year. The QIA is conducting due diligence and a final decision is expected in the next six months.

A source close to the situation said: "To do all the development, they have had to borrow a massive amount of money and, long-term, the club can't sustain that. So they want to take a lot of money for a very, very long lease from a substantial entity, perhaps a sovereign fund, which will continue development there."

As well as sovereign wealth funds, PwC is believed to have focused its approaches on high-net-worth individuals and real estate companies which could help to develop the site.

It is believed that one of the key conditions the BRDC will impose on the investor is that the site must be maintained to a standard to make it suitable to retain the British Grand Prix after 2017, and that the primary purpose of the site must remain as a motor racing venue.

However, land adjacent to the circuit is available for construction work and earlier this month the BRDC submitted a planning application which includes technology and business parks, three hotels, an educational campus and a motorsport museum.

Such options make the circuit a more attractive investment as they offer the potential to make money other than through hosting F1. Despite a near-capacity crowd for last year's race, the BRDC reported a £1.9m pre-tax loss for the year ending December 2010, down from a £1.3m pre-tax profit.

The BRDC is owned by 850 racing personalities, including Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Nigel Mansell. Members are set to get a windfall from the sale of the lease. In 2005, Northamptonshire-based Silverstone was valued at £61m, but since then it has undergone considerable renovation.

It has been a busy summer for the QIA. The fund's real estate subsidiary, Qatari Diar, announced its involvement in a partnership that has paid £557m to manage the London Olympic Village after the 2012 Games and turn it into housing. Meanwhile, in the F1 world, Williams chairman Adam Parr said in June that the racing teams had discussed teaming up to take a stake in the Grand Prix business.

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