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F1 Rival A1 Racing Series May Fail to Lure TV Networks, Ecclestone Says

March 30, 2005; Alex Duff and Dan Baynes writing for Bloomberg reported that The A1 Grand Prix motor-racing series, whose backers include a member of Dubai's royal family and Real Madrid soccer player Ronaldo, may struggle to sell broadcast rights to major television networks, Formula One's rights manager Bernie Ecclestone said.

``I don't think big TV companies are interested,'' Ecclestone, 74, said in a telephone interview from his London office. ``It would be on a satellite channel in the middle of the night. It's not serious.''

The series, featuring up to 30 national team franchises, hopes to have as many as 1 billion fans, three times more than Formula One, Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed bin Hasher Maktoum al- Maktoum, chairman of A1 Grand Prix, said today. It's scheduled to start Sept. 25 at England's Brands Hatch circuit and includes races in China, Qatar and South Africa.

The A1 series won't compete directly with Formula One because most of the races are scheduled for the sport's off- season. Sheikh Maktoum, whose father is the minister of the interior in Dubai, declined to disclose the series' costs. Ecclestone-run Formula One management companies had combined operating costs of $374 million in 2002, according to their latest filings in London.

The A1 series -- whose South African executive directors Brian Menell and Tony Teixeira have business interests including diamond mining -- hopes to ignite interest by fielding national teams led by the likes of Brazil's Ronaldo and Portugal's Luis Figo, colleagues at Real Madrid.

Pakistan, India

Alan Jones, the 1980 Formula One champion, said today he would lead Australia's entry. The Pakistan government is funding the country's team, while India will also enter the competition. Formula One's 10 teams aren't decided along national lines.

``We're looking to add on 50 to 60 percent more new fans to motor sport from the young to people who are more interested in national pride than just simply motorheads,'' Sheikh Maktoum said today in an interview in Sydney.

Another difference from Formula One is that Huntingdon, England-based Lola Cars International Ltd. will make the cars, which may mean races are decided more by driver skill than engine power.

The dominance of Italy's Ferrari, whose German driver Michael Schumacher took the last five titles, has helped dilute Formula One's popularity. Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella and Fernando Alonso won the first two races this season.

Formula One's TV ratings are ``holding up at a time when viewing figures are down because there are so many channels,'' Ecclestone said. He didn't give details.

The average race audience last year was 162 million, according to BusinessF1 magazine. Six months before the A1 series starts, Sheikh Maktoum said no TV company had yet committed to buying the rights for A1 Grand Prix's first season, although ``the interest is there'' from broadcasters.

``The more awareness it gets and the bigger it gets, the bigger the rights issue becomes,'' Sheikh Maktoum said.

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