Formula 1's governing body the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) has welcomed the sale of the sport to American media company Liberty Media Corporation.
The deal, which is estimated to be valued at $8.4 billion (£6.3 billion), could herald the departure of long-standing F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
In an official statement, FIA president Jean Todt said: "While it remains to be seen how this acquisition will influence the promotion of the FIA Formula One championship, we welcome this long-term investment in Formula One by a company that has such a broad portfolio of sports, media and entertainment businesses.
"As motor sport’s governing body and regulator we acknowledge Liberty Media’s wide expertise in these fields and we look forward to working in close partnership with them in the future in order to further develop Formula One and bring it to new generations of motor sport enthusiasts around the world.”
F1 is currently controlled by CVC Capital Partners, a private equity group that has a 35% stake in Delta Topco, the company that owns the Formula One Group, which includes Formula One Management (FOM) and Formula One Administration (FOA).
Speculation at the weekend’s Italian Grand Prix – fuelled by Ecclestone (pictured below) in an interview with German magazine Auto Motor und Sport – suggested CVC was preparing to sell its stake to Liberty Media Corporation. The US firm is owned by American tycoon John Malone.
According to Sky Sports, the deal would signal the start of Liberty’s plan to acquire 100% of F1 shares, subject to approval from the FIA and legislators, and to publicly list F1 on the New York stock exchange. The Financial Times has said the initial deal would enable Liberty Media to acquire 10-15% of F1, with an agreement to take full control in the future.
Sky has said media executive Chase Carey, who has close ties to Rupert Murdoch, will be named as chairman of F1 once the deal is confirmed. He would replace Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman for the past two years and former CEO of Nestlé, who is expected to stay on the board as a non-executive director.
Stalwart F1 journalist Joe Saward wrote on his personal blog on Monday that he had seen CVC chief Donald McKenzie tell McLaren boss Ron Dennis in Monza that Italy would be his last race, suggesting a change is imminent.
However, the deal may not yet be set in stone. Autosport reported on Sunday that Liberty Media still faces competition from other interested parties. It suggested CVC is still in negotiations with investment firm RSE Ventures, which owns the Miami Dolphins NFL team, in tandem with a Qatari consortium and another unnamed private equity firm.
What a sale would mean for Ecclestone remains unclear. The former driver and team owner has been the face of F1 for more than 40 years and owns a 5% stake in it himself. He has transformed and expanded the sport during his tenure at the top, but his influence has not been without controversy. Channel 4 pundit and former team boss Eddie Jordan said he understood Ecclestone would step down immediately, but Ecclestone has denied those claims. Reuters quoted Niki Lauda, three-time world champion and Mercedes non-executive chairman, as saying that Ecclestone would be at the next race in Singapore. Other senior F1 figures have also expressed doubt that Ecclestone's departure would be immediate.