Over the last couple of days, a rumor has surfaced saying Apple is currently in talks to buy Formula One. Yes, the same Formula One that operates the world’s highest class of single-seat auto racing.
The rumors started on Tuesday when Joe Saward, a longtime and well-respected Formula One reporter, said that he was hearing “whispers” that Formula One is currently undergoing an “intensive due diligence” process that could ultimately lead to a sale. Another “whisper,” he said, was that Apple (AAPL) has become the “latest bidder” for Formula One.
It’s worth noting that Saward, whose post was earlier discovered by Apple-tracking site AppleInsider, did not identify his sources and neither Apple nor Formula One have responded to a request for comment on the report. And at first blush, Apple buying a car business sounds rather absurd.
However, the report shouldn’t be ignored. Saward is one of the foremost reporters in the Formula One market and it’s well-known that Apple has at least taken a liking to cars. It also has the cash to acquire a company that’s been up for sale for the last year, and Saward himself has thought it odd that Formula One won’t just deny the reports.
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He pointed to three key components that could make the deal make sense. For one, Apple is working on a car—something Tesla founder Elon Musk has called the “worst-kept secret” in Silicon Valley—and Apple might want to connect its name to a well-known and highly respected auto brand. What’s more, he says, Apple has more than enough cash to buy what could be a company worth somewhere around $8 billion. Finally, he believes the purchase could help sales of the Apple TV.
Apple has been rumored for the last several months to be working on getting an over-the-top television service up and running on its Apple TV. That service would allow customers to subscribe to a set number of channels rather than pick a cable or satellite provider for wide-ranging content they don’t care about. Incidentally, Formula One racing is one of the most widely viewed types of content worldwide and has helped Formula One itself become such a big enterprise. Apple owning the franchise and offering it as part of a television package that would run on its Apple TV could make some sense and, like Saward says, help Apple TV sales.
While Apple has historically been loath to make big acquisitions and instead focuses on small buys that it can incorporate into its broader business, Apple CEO Tim Cook has signaled that might change. In an earnings call in April following the first quarter iPhone sales fell since the smartphone’s launch in 2007, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that he’s willing to spend if a deal makes sense.
“We’re always looking in the market about things that could complement things that we do today, become features in something we do, or allow us to accelerate entry into a category that we’re excited about,” Cook said. “And so as I said before, our test is not on the size. We would definitely buy something larger than we’ve bought thus far. It’s more about the strategic fit and whether it’s a great technology and great people. And so we continue to look and we stay very active in the M&A market.”
Just a day later, Barclays analyst Mark Moskowitz wrote to investors that he believed Apple “might need to embark on larger mergers and acquisitions in the order of $50 billion or more.” The reason? Apple should want to “build a broader content and services platform”—something Formula One could help it do.
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But exactly how owning Formula One could help Apple in the car business is a little fuzzy. Sure, Apple can afford Formula One and it’s clear that the business is wildly popular, but how would Apple owning the company actually help its brand caché in the automotive industry? Perhaps it would be an opportunity for Apple to simply align itself with a highly respected car brand and hope that people associate it with cars when it’s ready to launch its own vehicle. It’s also possible Apple could use the acquisition for research and find features in Formula One cars that could make its own offering better than others.
Again, this is all speculation at this point and Apple would never admit to acquiring a company until it’s time. But Formula One is for sale. In March, in fact, Formula One’s Bernie Ecclestone said that at least two companies were interested in acquiring Formula One and they had agreed to a price. He was waiting at that time for investors CVC, which holds the controlling 35% stake in the business, to sign off. Since then, all parties have gone silent.
It’s hard to determine how likely an Apple-Formula One buyout is, and at first blush, it sounds ludicrous. But further inspection shows it might make some sense—and could actually happen under the right conditions.