F1 chairman puts brakes on IPO talk

Formula one car. Picture: AFP

MONACO - Businessman Peter Brabeck, celebrating his appointment as Formula One chairman on Friday, said the motor racing series had not made a decision on whether to proceed with a much discussed $10 billion listing on the stock market in Singapore.

Speaking to Reuters over a trackside lunch with Formula One commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone also in attendance, Brabeck said the business had a plan in hand to replace the octogenarian Ecclestone but hoped it would not be needed for a number of years yet.

"He has a fantastic motivation. He has very good health," said Brabeck, who is chairman of Swiss food group Nestle and was confirmed in the Formula One role at a board meeting in Monaco on Friday.

"As Bernie has said, you can't replace Frank Sinatra but you can find another singer. One day we are going to find another singer and he or she will be different. The show will go on," added Brabeck, an Austrian.

The diminutive Briton Ecclestone has built up the Formula One business over the past 40 years, turning the current 20-race series into a money-spinner that is expected to produce revenues of $2 billion this year.

Life after the billionaire Ecclestone was seen as one of the risk factors for investors in any flotation. The appointment of heavyweight figures like Brabeck, who has had a small stake in the business for the last couple of years, to high profile roles was seen as underpinning its status.

Formula One has been given the green light to list in Singapore, with speculation of a market debut next month. However, market uncertainties and the turmoil surrounding the Facebook IPO are making its owners weigh their words carefully.

"It was the first time that the board had a report on the preparation, there was pre-valuation of the whole process. I think we made a step forwards but no decision has been taken," Brabeck said.

Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Switzerland's UBS have been hired to lead the IPO. The two U.S. houses have both faced a backlash over their role in the messy Facebook flotation.

Private equity firm CVC Capital Partners unveiled a $1.6 billion deal this week to sell a 21 percent stake in the business to U.S. groups Waddell & Reed and BlackRock, along with Norway's Norges Bank Investment Management.

"If anything it has reduced the pressure or the need for an IPO or a next step and that's why the board looked at the IPO today as one option," Donald Mackenzie, managing partner at CVC told Reuters in the principality, where billionaires' yachts are moored alongside the famous street circuit.

"It's certainly something we are going to look at over the next 3-6 months but there is no set timetable," he added.