Exclusive: F1 Owners Eye Huge Payout
The owners of Formula One (F1) motor racing are plotting to pay themselves a windfall worth hundreds of millions of pounds as part of a refinancing that would load the business with more debt.
I have learned that CVC Capital Partners, the private equity firm which owns about one-third of F1's parent company, is in the early stages of planning the so-called dividend recapitalisation.
Insiders say the deal could involve a payout worth more than £200m, which would be split between CVC and F1's other shareholders, who include Bernie Ecclestone, the sport's veteran chief executive.
News of the refinancing follows CVC's decision to apply the brakes to a plan for a stock market listing of the sport in Singapore and comes ahead of one of the closest drivers' championship contests for years.
Originally planned for the summer of this year, the owners and F1's management team opted to postpone it amid volatile markets destabilised by the ongoing Eurozone debt crisis.
F1's holding company is saddled by a relatively small debt-pile in relation to the company's rising profits, which has prompted bankers to approach CVC with the idea of a lucrative payout.
The debt markets have seen heightened activity in recent weeks, reflecting greater confidence about the outlook for the Eurozone and prompting a number of private equity-backed companies to assess the viability of such payments.
A final decision about whether to proceed has not yet been taken, but if it does take place, it will be the third recapitalisation of F1 since CVC acquired the business in 2006. Banks have yet to be formally appointed to work on it and the final amount has yet to be determined.
CVC's investment committee has yet to approve the potential payout.
Earlier this year, CVC clinched a deal that deferred F1's debt repayments to 2017 while paying itself a dividend of more than £250m, according to a presentation made to the buyout firm's investors at a conference in London last month.
F1 has been one of CVC's most profitable investments, generating more than £2.3bn in returns for the group. CVC's original investment to take control of the sport was a comparatively paltry £588m (at today's exchange rate).
Earlier this year, CVC sold nearly 21 per cent of F1 to Waddell & Reed, a US-based institutional investor, with a further 6.9 per cent sold to BlackRock and Norges Bank Investment Management.
Those shares were sold at an enterprise value of just over $9bn, with CVC anticipating that an eventual flotation would value F1 at more than $10bn.
CVC and Mr Ecclestone are focused on finalising a new Concorde Agreement, which will govern the distribution of F1's commercial revenues between 2013 and 2020.
CVC declined to comment on the plans for a further dividend payout.