Liberty Media: Who are Formula 1's new owners?

Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing sits in his car in the garage during the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 4 Image copyright Getty Images

The acquisition by the US media conglomerate Liberty Media of the Formula 1 racing business for $4.4bn (£3.3bn) opens a new chapter for the motor sport.

The announcement may have ended the long-running saga over the future of the business, but it also raises some fresh questions.

Some wonder if it will speed up the eventual exit of Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone. Under the terms of the deal he remains as chief executive but he has run the sport for nearly 40 years and is now 85.

The new chairman of Formula 1 will be the elaborately moustachioed Chase Carey, the executive vice chairman of Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox.

"I see great opportunity to help Formula 1 continue to develop and prosper for the benefit of the sport, fans, teams and investors alike," said Mr Carey on the announcement of the deal.

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Image caption F1's new chairman Chase Carey (left) has been one of Rupert Murdoch's key executives

Understanding Liberty

Liberty Media now takes over from the Luxembourg-based investment fund CVC Capital Partners as the new owner of Formula 1 - subject to approval by regulators.

It may not be a household name outside of the United States, but it is a major media conglomerate with stakes in several sports and entertainment businesses.

Most notably these include the Atlanta Braves baseball club. The firm also has stakes in US cable TV firms, entertainment and ticket sales firms, and the satellite and online radio company Sirius XM.

And it is just one of a number of telecoms and media conglomerates that are owned and controlled by 75-year-old billionaire businessman John Malone.

Mr Malone started his career at AT&T in the 1960s and was for 23 years the chief executive of the US cable giant TCI.

Unlike other media moguls he shuns the limelight. He has a reputation for having a formidable intellect and for being a business executive who takes a long view of markets. It has certainly paid off for him - he is now worth about $7bn.

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Image caption John Malone is one the biggest media owners in the US

However, he is also said to have a ruthless streak. Back in the 1990s, as TCI boss, he was nicknamed "Darth Vader" by then US Vice President Al Gore when he put up cable customers' subscription rates.

Media empire

Mr Malone also owns two other major media conglomerates, Liberty Interactive and Liberty Global (he is chairman of all three firms).

Liberty Interactive's subsidiaries include the home shopping channel QVC.

UK-based Liberty Global is one of the world's biggest broadband internet service providers and international cable firms, with operations in 14 countries and 35,000 employees.

Since 2013 it has been the owner of Virgin Media, and also has a minority stake in ITV.

Mr Malone also has a significant stake in Barnes and Noble, the biggest retail bookseller in the US.

Speaking of his business success he once said: "You just have to be opportunistic, and try to figure out what creates value."

Besides his media interests Mr Malone is also the largest private landowner in the US. He owns 2.1 million acres - that's nearly half the size of Wales - much of it in the US states of Maine and New Hampshire.

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Image caption Bernie Ecclestone said he was looking forward to working with F1's new owners

Future F1

So what new directions will F1 take?

Formula 1 has 400 million viewers worldwide, but in the US has struggled to win audiences.

US viewing figures have been rising since NBC Sports took over US domestic broadcast rights in 2013, and it is a trend that is set to continue - especially with this year's addition of an American based team, Haas F1.

There is also likely to be a move to fully embrace new media and the digital marketplace, something that Mr Ecclestone's critics have said has held back the sport until now.

Follow Tim Bowler on Twitter @timbowlerbbc

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