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Marussia held merger talks with Williams - Wolff

Caroline Reid and Christian Sylt
December 2, 2013 « 2014 cars will be tough to drive - Button | I was smart enough to seek help - Grosjean »
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Mercedes' executive director Toto Wolff has revealed that talks have taken place about merging Marussia and Williams though he says they are "getting nowhere" as it would lead to the closure of Marussia.

Wolff is at the centre of the discussions as he owns a 12.2% stake in Williams. The team is floated on the Frankfurt stock exchange and has a market value of €180.2m meaning that Wolff's stake is worth €22m. He has owned shares in Williams since 2009 when he became a director of the team.

In January he jumped ship to Mercedes and took a 30% stake in that too. Soon afterwards he announced that he would dispose of his Williams shares to avoid any conflicts of interest.

Earlier this year it came to light that Marussia had been in talks with Caterham about a merger but it was thought that it had given up on the strategy. Recent rumours suggested that Marussia owner Andrey Cheglakov had been in discussion with Sauber and Williams about a merger and Wolff confirmed it.

"One of the discussions we had was with Marussia," he said. "They discussed it with Sauber as well. You have a high profile, wealthy individual who funds the team with 50, 60 or 70 million a year, similar to Tony Fernandes, but, performance-wise, is not getting anywhere. Then you have a team which is self-funded where you could buy a substantial minority stake, 5% maybe or more and you could go on to the board. At the same time, instead of paying 50, 60, 70 million a year, you pay 20 or 30 and you promote your own brand. It would close Marussia, it would close Caterham or whatever. That's why those discussions are getting nowhere."

Marussia finished 2013 in 10th place, which is one spot higher than last year. However, it has not scored a point since joining F1 in 2010. In 2012 as it made a £59m net loss which widened by 27.4% on the previous year. It was driven by an 8.7% increase in costs to £76.1m whilst revenue only rose by 2.9% to £29.4m.

This year Williams had one of the worst seasons in its 36-year history as it finished ninth with five points. It came on the back of the team making a £4.6m net loss last year and the bad news continued after the end of this season as it lost Pastor Maldonado who brings an estimated $45m to the team through sponsorship from Venezuelan oil company PDVSA.

"I would never do anything against the interests of Frank [Williams]," Wolff said. "I need to find the right partner. I need to have somebody who is not only buying those shares but somebody who is buying for the family and who is potentially a sponsor or brings some added value to Williams.

"The difficulty is that you don't want to find somebody who is just pouring money into it...it's a catch because you need to find somebody who feels that it is an investment but at the same time hopefully has a brand which he wants to promote. If you find that kind of person then it makes sense."

Despite Williams' recent woes, Wolff says that it is still in good shape.

"Williams was always healthy and even though, let's say, profits have somehow flat-lined, it is still a company that has generated positive cashflows in the last few years also because they are a diversified business. The advanced engineering division was very profitable last year and it has very little debt, almost none. They are building a very big building for advanced engineering to develop road cars. They are very solid and very transparent."

Wolff says he hopes to sell around two-thirds of his Williams shares and adds "I do not have a deadline. It is absolutely flexible. The intention is to sell them over a reasonable period of time."

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