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Liberty completes F1 takeover, Ecclestone replaced

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Bernie Ecclestone's 40-year reign as Formula One's commercial supremo ended on Monday with the sport's new owners Liberty Media replacing the 86-year-old Briton with American Chase Carey.

Signaling the end of an era, Liberty said in a statement that it had completed the acquisition of Formula One and appointed Chairman Carey to the additional role of Chief Executive.

Ecclestone will become 'Chairman Emeritus', with Liberty saying he would remain "available as a source of advice for the board of F1".

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Liberty also named two managing directors -- former Ferrari technical director and ex-Mercedes team boss Ross Brawn for motorsports and former ESPN executive Sean Bratches for commercial operations.

Both roles had been widely signaled in media reports.

"I’m proud of the business that I built over the last 40 years and all that I have achieved with Formula One," Ecclestone said in the statement. "I am sure that Chase will execute his role in a way that will benefit the sport."

Liberty Media president and CEO Greg Maffei said Carey, 62, would lead the business from now on and thanked Ecclestone for his "tremendous success" in transforming Formula One into a $1 billion business.

"There is an enormous opportunity to grow the sport, and we have every confidence that Chase, with his abilities and experience, is the right person to achieve this," he said.

The takeover, valued at $8 billion including debt, has been broadly welcomed in a sport featuring famous car brands such as Ferrari, McLaren and world champions Mercedes and which has the Monaco Grand Prix as its jewel in the crown.

HUGE POTENTIAL

Carey has spent his time since September familiarizing himself with the sport, and has made clear that fundamental changes need to be made to the business model.

Formula One currently lacks a marketing department and has derived much of its revenue from television rights and race hosting fees, with Ecclestone making the deals.

"F1 has huge potential with multiple untapped opportunities," said Carey.

"I have enjoyed hearing from the fans, teams, (the sport's governing) FIA, promoters and sponsors on their ideas and hopes for the sport. We will work with all of these partners to enhance the racing experience and add new dimensions to the sport."

Ecclestone took the F1 circus to new destinations, such as Azerbaijan and Bahrain, that were prepared to pay handsomely to host a round of the championship even if they lacked the motorsport heritage of historic European circuits.

He has controlled every aspect of the paddock, however, and teams and fans have long chafed at the lack of a digital strategy and the focus on maximizing profits rather than developing the sport.

Liberty, owned by U.S. cable TV mogul John Malone, has emphasized the importance of traditional European venues and wants to expand in the Americas.

"My days in the office will be somewhat quieter. Maybe I'll come to a Grand Prix. I still have lots of friends in Formula One," Ecclestone had told Germany's Auto, Motor und Sport before the announcement.

"I have enough money to be able to afford to visit a race."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, Editing by Ken Ferris)

 
 
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