A great time to buy in to F1

Earlier this year I went over to the World Touring Car Championship race at Porto. I caught up with a driver who I haven’t seen in years, and amongst other things he told me that in recent months he’d been snapping up repossessed houses for around 50 per cent of the market rate.

“The banks are desperate to get rid of them,” he said, “because they’re desperate for cash. They need liquidity more than they need the paper value of the asset.”

I pointed out that property values could fall further in the short term.

“Doesn’t matter,” he replied. “The opportunity is now. They aren’t thinking about the future, because it’s less important to them than shareholder value – they don’t want a rout next time they release some figures. When the panic’s over the bargains will be gone.”

Similar thoughts have been playing through the minds of the investors who are presently jockeying to pick up the Renault F1 team, should Renault decide to sell (I was told last week that the decision is still pending). As the weakened manufacturers have fled the sport to focus on shoring up their balance sheets, the better to defend their share prices, visionary entrepreneurs have sniffed opportunities; although sometimes, as in the case of Qadbak, the difference between entrepreneur and huckster isn’t immediately obvious.

Yesterday’s news that Lloyds Development Capital has taken a stake in the Virgin F1 team underlines the fact that the panic is now over in the banking sector. It was also a nimble piece of news management (hardly surprising, given that Virgin F1’s comms chief used to work at Honda and therefore knows a thing or two about firefighting). Banks and bankers are still reviled and reports of them spending money – especially if, like Lloyds, they’ve been bailed out by the British taxpayer – may not be greeted warmly. The timing of the announcement makes it a small element in the hierarchy of today’s launch.

This is a good time to be investing in Formula 1. The background mood of optimism in the market is characterised by the price of F1’s debt, which is currently trading in the region of 90 pence in the pound. Back in July, at the height of the FOTA breakaway threat, it was around 50 pence in the pound.

In buying Brawn, Mercedes have obtained a championship-winning F1 team for far less than British American Tobacco and Honda paid for pretty much the same outfit when it was still a midfielder. They will now derive all the benefits from having their name above the door while spending far less – partly thanks to the resource restriction agreement. Dr Dieter Zetsche, Mercedes’ chairman, has claimed that from 2011 the annual budget will be a quarter of what it used to be.

So the recent talk about Anthony Hamilton throwing his hat into the ring with Renault F1 may not be too hard to believe. After all, as my WTCC snout pointed out, if you’ve got cash these days then why leave it buried under the Swiss Alps when there are bargains to be had?

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  1. Was this mysterious driver T. Monteiro? Property prices here in Portugal are quite low indeed.

    It’s a great time to buy into F1 and it’s a great time for F1, I think we were all pretty tired of manufacturers and their PR rubbish: our most advanced 3 series ever, car at the front is TOYota, Kimi drives a Fiat, bla-bla-bla.

    What’s a road car has in common with an F1 car? Nothing! For Alonso’s sake, it’s a piece of metal on wheels with an engine assembled and made in China and some simplified/unified chassis which is used by like 10 different models. Less manufacturers = more fun. I’m loving the new teams.

  2. Funnily enough, Le FOFA Chairman, that was my first thought too. Even though there are other people who fit the description given that could plausibly have engaged in such tactics, it occurs to me to be the sort of thing that fits in exactly with Tiago’s thoughtful, entrepreneurial nature.

    I’m surprised the British prime minister hasn’t publically told off Lloyds yet for its investment in a F1 team. It is a good sign for F1 though – their recession may well end before the British one does!

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