Sale of Force India stake is fraught with serious pitfalls

Sahara Group founder Subrata Roy gestures as he speaks during a news conference in Kolkata, India, in this November 29, 2013 file photo.
Sahara Group founder Subrata Roy gestures as he speaks during a news conference in Kolkata, India, in this November 29, 2013 file photo.PHOTO: REUTERS

MUMBAI • India's embattled Sahara conglomerate wants to sell its 42.5 per cent stake in the Force India Formula One team to help release founder Subrata Roy from jail, but some motor racing insiders are sceptical about how easy it will be to find a buyer.

Sahara, which paid US$100 million (S$140 million) for the shareholding in 2011, sought the Indian Supreme Court's permission this month to dispose of Force India and other assets to raise a combined total of US$778 million.

However, former Jordan, Jaguar and Red Bull marketing executive Mark Gallagher said such a sale would not be easy.

  • US$100m 

  • Sahara paid S$141 million for a 42.5 per cent stake in Formula One team Force India in 2011

"I don't think anybody will pay 100 million pounds, euros or dollars for 42.5 per cent of a mid-level F1 franchise," he said.

Others said it would be easier to dispose of the stake if the whole team - run by beer baron Vijay Mallya, who also owns 42.5 per cent - were up for sale because a buyer would want outright control.

With Formula One far less popular than cricket in India, and Mallya under pressure from lenders to meet loan repayment obligations linked to his grounded Kingfisher Airlines, the stake on its own could be a hard sell.

Lenders who are owed more than US$1 billion by Kingfisher have started putting up for sale some of the carrier's assets. Kingfisher has not flown since 2012 due to a lack of cash.

"Unless you are just doing it for sponsorship, I imagine you would want control. And generally sponsors don't want to be shareholders," Finbarr O'Connell, administrator for the failed Caterham team, said.

A Sahara spokesman said that there were "no talks with anybody at the moment" about selling the Formula One team stake.

Force India's chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer, when asked whether Mallya's permission was needed for any potential sale by his co-owners, said he did not know the details of Sahara's shareholder agreements.

Formula One has only 11 teams and any change of ownership, particularly if it might bring more funding, is of major interest to fans.

Force India, the only Indian-registered team, have a loyal following - particularly in Mexico thanks to Mexican driver Sergio Perez.

Mallya, who brought Sahara into the British-based team after buying it in 2007, turned 60 in December and recently said that it was "time to slow down, semi-retire and enjoy life".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2016, with the headline 'Sale of Force India stake is fraught with serious pitfalls'. Print Edition | Subscribe