Liberty Media would want ‘a hell of a lot more than $20 billion’ to sell F1 – Maffei

2023 F1 season

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Formula 1’s owners Liberty Media believe the sport is worth in excess of $20 billion (£15.7bn).

The US-based mass-media company acquired Formula 1 from CVC Capital Partners in early 2017 for $8 billion. Since then, the popularity of the sport has boomed, particularly in the United States where three races now take place on the F1 calendar.

The growth in popularity has added major value to Formula 1 as an asset for Liberty. Earlier this year, reports suggested that the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) had explored a potential buyout of the sport for a reported figure of $20 billion, but Liberty Media were said to have expressed they had no interest in selling the sport at present.

However Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei has denied the Saudi PIF had made an approach about potentially purchasing F1.

“The Saudis have been partners on a couple of things – they have a race, Aramco [state-owned petroleum company] is a sponsor – but they never approached us,” Maffei told the Walker Webcast.

“And frankly, $20 billion would not be an attractive price. It’s trading for $17 billion, $18 billion – why 20? I’d want a hell of a lot more than that. We’re pretty bullish on the future.”

Maffei says that the current structure of Liberty Media and how it operates with Formula 1 under its ownership would dissuade the company from considering selling the sport at this time.

“We’re a C-corp, meaning if we sell a division, we pay corporate-level tax and then any proceeds we would pay that get distributed to our shareholders, they would, in addition, pay tax,” Maffei explained.

“If we were to spin Formula 1 away, create a separate company, wait a sufficient time, have no plan or intent to sell, that asset could be sold down the road and there would be no corporate-level tax. So what I really was saying is the way we’re structured today, given that low-tax basis, we would not be sellers.

“If we wish to be sellers or even consider it right, you’d need to do a spin. And spinning it away, there are other reasons why we might do that – it’s not just to do a sale. But the way we are structured, that would be very unattractive.”

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Despite the current domination of Red Bull and Max Verstappen leading to a lack of an intriguing battle at the very front of the field, Maffei points to the intense competition behind Red Bull as evidence that their efforts to improve entertainment for the sport’s fans is having success.

“While Max is up front, we can show you statistically there is actually way more overtaking going on in the midfield over historical numbers,” he said.

“We can show you how many overtakes there were – I think there were 77, not in Montreal, but the week before in Spain, which is a big number. We track this. We are trying to create an interesting product for our fans, obviously.

“Formula 1 has had a long time when teams and cars had a run. You go back, Red Bull had won four in a row, then Mercedes won eight in a row – seven with Lewis [Hamilton], one with Nico Rosberg – and now it looks like we may have our third for Red Bull. So it’s not unusual. I think it takes a while for teams to catch up to some of these new regulations.”

Maffei also says that Liberty have been “blessed” to have owned the sport during a period when three of the most successful drivers in history – Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Verstappen – had all been competing on the same track.

“It’s clear Max is an incredibly focussed individual. Aggressive, smart, capable. Training all the time, thinking all the time,” he said. “And Lewis is too. Great skills.

“It’s always very tough to know how much is the car in Formula 1, how much is the team – because it’s a team. There are a huge amount of resources backing them up. Strategic decisions about tyre changes and lots of other things that are the team, tyre choices. And then how much is the driver? Weighing all that is hard.

“But clearly we’re blessed to have, in the era where Liberty’s been involved, three of the greatest of all time.”

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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25 comments on “Liberty Media would want ‘a hell of a lot more than $20 billion’ to sell F1 – Maffei”

  1. “… now we’re just haggling over the price.”

  2. If there was actually 77 overtakes in the Spanish GP then it just proves that quantity doesn’t equate to quality or excitement as while that race was OK it wasn’t that great.

    And if they are using only number of overtakes to try and push the narrative of excitement and quality then it just highlights how little they actually care about the actual quality and excitement of the racing.

    1. Indeed, it comes across easily with the article that they’re proud of the amount of overtakes and don’t think that if they’re too easy they don’t matter, it’s like lapping cars; there’s certain overtakes in unusual spots, without drs that matter, or certain duels, defending can be interesting too and it’s basically impossible now with drs on most tracks.

    2. I did more than that on my own, on a motorway. Nobody cared to watch I’m sure. But who knows, maybe I’m worth more than F1.

      1. Aha, good one!

  3. Kyle (@hammerheadgb)
    25th June 2023, 18:04

    “then Mercedes won eight in a row – seven with Lewis [Hamilton], one with Nico Rosberg…”

    Freudian slip? While the record books do say Mercedes won 8 constructors’ titles in a row, they don’t talk about Lewis winning 7 drivers’ titles in that spell.

    1. Seasons like 2021, 2008 etc. always tend to be a bit confusing in that sense.

      On that note, good old Piquet is still the only driver who won two titles in seasons where his team did not win the constructor’s title (1981 and 1983).

      1. Interesting stat, I can think of a handful of drivers that won 1 such title but never 2, and wouldn’t have guessed about piquet if asked.

      2. some racing fan
        26th June 2023, 4:32

        Yes, that’s because Piquet’s teammates at Brabham were either pay drivers or drivers who were not on his level, therefore they could not make a good enough contribution to the team’ success. In 1981 his teammate was Hector Rebaque, who by F1 standards was completely useless, and in 1983 it was Patrese, who was good but hadn’t matured yet.

        1. True, and it was also a bit of a sign of the times. The year in between those two titles for Piqeuet was won by Rosberg, whose team also didn’t win the WCC, and then in 1986 it happened yet again with Prost. Reliability probably played a significant role too.

    2. @hammerheadgb
      He might’ve said 7 purposely as an indirect reference to the infamous robbery.

      1. Kyle (@hammerheadgb)
        28th June 2023, 16:04

        Perhaps, hence my direct reference to the record books as the basis for the challenge!

  4. If they are basing this all on the increased popularity in the States then now is the time to sell. Americans are fickle with this kind of thing. F1 is boring lacks any interesting characters and is a couple more RBR dominant seasons from being irrelevant in the States again.

    1. It certainly sounds like “We’re not selling, but we might be interested in considering suitable offers ….”
      Let’s see how Vegas makes out. That could have an impact on the “value”. In either direction.

  5. Dang. I should have bought it for 7-8 billion when I had the chance 😞

    1. Yes, at this point only a select few like bill gates can afford f1!

      1. And that my friend is F1’s next problem. I’d day Liberty are sitting on a valuable asset to milk for all its worth, and I say good for them for seeing the possibilities and chancing their business skills to make it work. But on a serious note, who really, is going to be able to afford to by F1 outright. No serious investor I can imaging wants to buy a sport whose main players can’t agree on anything. Herding cats comes to mind. The only people I can see buying F1 at its present valuation are the saudis or a national wealth fund like that, for who returns are not really the reason for owniong it. Mind you, when Liberty paid Bernie 4$ billion I thought that was way too much, but paing west of $10 billion now and trying to recoup that amount would tax the business accumen any warren buffet. Good luck with that one. Liberty I suspect know that and will just keep taking their returns year in year out. As they should. Selling F1 is not an option at this or any other point. At least that is what I think.

        1. But on a serious note, who really, is going to be able to afford to by F1 outright.

          There are numerous options, but the problem – which the FIA president correctly pointed out earlier this year – is that this money has to be recouped over a period of time, which poses a risk to the series if the ‘extraction’ phase of the ownership becomes rushed or even faces problems due to a downturn in F1’s ability to generate revenue.

          This predictably had the Formula One Group all in a fit, and again to nobody’s surprise, a bunch of self-styled journos from the UK suddenly “discovered” that the FIA president was a horrible person who said mean things that one time in the 1990s. Always good to know a few smear merchants when you’re in business.

  6. Maffei is wrong that it’s normal for teams to “have a run” for years on end. That’s very rare, especially dominant ones.

    Only six times has a team won the title more than two seasons in a row, and it wasn’t until the awful 2014 engine regulations that it supposedly “normal” for this to last for ages.

    For reference, those six times were:

    Williams from 1992-1994, where they lost the WDC to Schumacher in 1994.
    Ferrari from 1975-1977, where they lost the WDC to Hunt in 1976.
    Red Bull from 2010-2013, with two very competitive seasons decided in the final race in 2010 and 2012.
    McLaren from 1988-1991, with two competitive seasons decided in the penultimate race in 1990 and 1991.
    Ferrari from 1999-2004, with three competitive seasons decided in the penultimate (once, 2000) or final race (twice, 1999 and 2003).
    And then there’s Mercedes from 2014-2021, where there was all of one season long title battle with a different team, in 2021 in which they lost the WDC to Verstappen.

  7. Liberty Media would want ‘a hell of a lot more than $20 billion’ to sell F1 – Maffei

    But this, too, would not be about the money – says everyone who loves money too much.

  8. Sometimes I wonder what the world would be without money. It would probably be the same or even worse but then if you would own something like F1 would it make a difference or would there be same guys saying the same things.
    At least if you would like to drive a Ferrari on the road it wouldn’t cost you anything. We would have been probably run out of fuel but some Adrian Newey would still have invented some way to get the cars going again.

  9. Hopefully it will be bought by euopean, asian or arab investors so we can get rid of all the americam barf like the fake crowdcheer sample we hear over and over even on parts where no crowd is, and the fake “show” put up before races start. Get back a bit more to classic stylish F1

    1. Do you really believe that a different money-grubbing corporation would be a huge improvement over the current one?
      Where they are from makes no difference – they all want the same thing. Short-term profit is king, and the more of it they get, the better. Doesn’t matter how.

      We should all be begging the FIA to set themselves up as a non-European entity and buy the commercial rights back.

      1. It depends a bit on the corporation owning it, but it’s always good to be clear about the motives behind these purchases. Most will be looking to beat the average market returns, and so they have to grow the ‘value’ at a pretty predictable percentage each year. That’s why they were so incensed when the FIA president cautioned against over-inflating the value of the ‘asset’. They have their targets, and they know they have to hit those for this whole thing to have been worth everyone’s time and money. A lot of wealthy people are going to be pretty annoyed when ‘this F1 thing’ doesn’t turn the profit they were sold, or were expecting. From all the rumblings and comments, which were practically absent something like three or four years ago, Liberty seem to be starting to move into the next phase of their ownership by laying the groundwork for a sale.

  10. After reading that statement I was left with the feeling of being spoken to like a 5 year old…
    “77 overtakes, that’s a big number” was the cherry on the cake though…

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