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Ecclestone pulls off deal of his lifetime
While most of the F1 world was busy at the end of 2006 analyzing the consequences of the new eco-friendly regulations being introduced by the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone was busy pulling off the deal of his life.

A report in today's Sunday Express newspaper reveals that F1's billionaire boss and the sport's majority owners CVC have managed to secure a $2.9bn loan from Royal Bank of Scotland and US Investment bank Lehman Brothers with the latter becoming an investor in a new F1 holding company. As the report's authors, Christian Sylt and Caroline Reid, reveal, the purpose of the loan is even more fascinating.

Sources say that the bulk of the loan is likely to be used to refinance debt CVC took onboard to fund its acquisition of F1 in November 2005. Although it had an investment fund of $7.2bn at its disposal, CVC's acquisition of F1 was almost entirely funded by a high-interest loan from RBS.

In fact, although it is estimated to have cost CVC around $1.35bn to buy F1 as well as its corporate hospitality and trackside advertising arms, RBS lent the private equity firm $1.17bn. The loan was paid by June 2006 after the European Commission had cleared the acquisition and the rebellious GPMA carmakers had signed their memorandum of understanding with CVC.

Sources say that getting the carmakers signed up was crucial to RBS loaning the money and it was all part of what was known internally at CVC as 'Project Alpha' after Alpha Topco - the new F1 parent company it set up. Topco in turn initially owned Alpha Prema which was CVC's vehicle for acquiring its majority stake in SLEC - F1's previous holding company.

However, as is often the case in F1, matters got more complicated. Alpha Prema is now a subsidiary of Alpha D2, a UK company which was lent $865m of the original loan used by Alpha Prema to buy SLEC. Another UK company, Beta Holdings, received $305m and bought F1's trackside advertising and corporate hospitality arms. The one catch was that with RBS lending so much money, the interest rate was high.

The RBS debt is believed to have been what is known as a Payment in Kind loan. This is the same type of loan which Manchester United Football Club's owner Malcolm Glazer took out to fund his purchase of the team. The interest on these loans soars to stratospheric heights of 10-20% - something which greatly angered United's fans and shareholders. However, the latest F1 loan could pay off CVC's original debt and the rate is sure to be lower.

Recently released documents show that under the latest financing deal a new F1 holding company has been created in Jersey called Delta Topco. Lehmans has invested in the company alongside another US investment bank, JP Morgan, Ecclestone, his family trust and the F1 group's majority owner CVC. More at. pitpass.com

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