Automakers to lap up stake in Formula One

Kirch, Ecclestone give up some control of racing circuit

BERLIN — A high-stakes bluff by Europe’s major automakers to force German media mogul Leo Kirch into giving them some control over Formula One racing has paid off.

Their threat to set up a rival championship has persuaded Kirch to hand over 25% of SLEC, which owns commercial rights to the event, plus veto rights and decision-making power. Formula One topper Bernie Ecclestone has also agreed to sell them half of his 25% stake in the company, according to the U.K.’s Sunday Times.

Under the new deal, Fiat, BMW, Daimler-Chrysler, Ford and Renault will hold a joint 37.5% of SLEC. Kirch and its kidvidder partner EM.TV still hold 50%.

On Friday, Ecclestone blasted the automakers, saying they could wreck top-level motor racing if they set up a rival circuit because the multinational sponsors and broadcasters would lose interest. Ecclestone, who recently extended his contract to run SLEC for an additional five years, said he would stay on as chief of the company.

The automakers had been opposed to a major TV group with pay TV interests having a majority share in SLEC. Both Kirch and Ecclestone have pledged to keep the racing event on free TV.

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