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Talk of BBC F1 pullout ramps up as Ecclestone mentions “settlement”
Posted By: James Allen  |  19 Jul 2011   |  5:47 pm GMT  |  307 comments

It is noticeable that in recent days there has been more discussion centring on the likelihood that the BBC will pull out of its contact to cover F1 racing. The matter is of interest beyond the borders of the UK as the race commentary is taken by most English speaking countries around the world, as it was in my days with ITV.

BBC took over the rights from ITV at the end of 2008, when the UK’s largest commercial broadcaster pulled out two years before the end of its contract. This was in order to fund spend on football rights.

It would be very unfortunate for the sport and would send out some negative signals if the main broadcast contract in the UK were to be handed back prematurely for a second time, but the BBC is contemplating just that as it seeks to make significant cuts in its budgets.

New BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten was asked recently on a BBC TV show whether F1 was in line to be dropped and he replied in general terms about things that the corporation “would like to do but can no longer afford to.” Staff at the BBC are braced for a significant round of job cuts across all departments. I’ve heard some staff express fear that as much as 10% of them could be laid off.

There is no doubt that although F1 enjoys some strong support from certain factions within the Corporation, in the current economic context there is also a very powerful lobby against it.

The F1 rights will be costing somewhere in the region of £45 million a year and looking at the scale of the production and the staffing levels, that’s probably another £8 to £10 million a year.

Express writer Bob McKenzie, who speaks frequently to Mr Ecclestone and whose daughter Lee is a reporter on the BBC F1 coverage, has written a story today with a settlement figure of £50 million mentioned. Although Ecclestone mentions the word “settlement” he does not mention a figure directly.

“It would be like any contract I sign with people, either on my side or theirs – it has to be honoured,” Ecclestone told the Express.

“I always stand by a deal and I would expect them to do the same. Obviously if they ended the contract early there would be a settlement, otherwise I suppose we would have to sue.

“The BBC have done a great job and we obviously do our part in supplying great sporting entertainment.”

He wouldn’t be talking this way if this story was mere speculation. This suggests to me that the negotiations with the BBC over the exit are ongoing or imminent.

There has been some speculation in the F1 paddock that the BBC might even be looking to get out at the end of this year, but my understanding from contacts in the Sports TV industry is that we are talking about the end of 2012, which would be one year before the scheduled end of the current five year contract.

Ecclestone has been quoted saying that he’d offer it to Channel 5, but the current favourite within the TV industry to get the rights is Channel 4, which has a good record in minority sports and which did an excellent production job on Test cricket, winning many awards.

However the talk of Channel 5 will be as much about trying to create a market to get the rights fee up as anything else. I’m not sure Channel 5 can afford to do F1.

If Channel 4 do get it, one would hope that they’d innovate as they did with cricket and I’m sure that they would. But it’s an expensive sport to cover well.

So F1 fans in the UK will have to accept that the current coverage is probably the high water mark of F1 coverage in this country. Having no commercial breaks and a very large production budget mean that UK fans are in a very privileged position compared to fans in other countries.

This clearly cannot continue. So viewers should enjoy it while it lasts.

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Boxing used to be popular, Tyson, Bruno, who are the boxing superstars now? I don’t know because Sky has turned it into a minority sport due their exclusive and pay per view coverage. Think on F1.


Great news on this today – Sky will provide top quality coverage (as they’re doing with the Test match I’m watching right now) and this can only be good for the Sport.

Now though, I am left in the frustrating situation of paying for a BBC service I get literally nothing out of.


BBC are going down the swanney these days. The quality is fast delining. Instead of axing F1, why doesn’t it axe their endless detective dramas.

Most of us would rather watch old repeats of Only Fools and Horses and Dad’s Army (which would be a cheap option for BBC) than be subjected to crap dramas.

So much for BBC boasting of being a service that provides the best in everything. The jewel in the crown of their sports package, if F1 goes, will be late night footie highlights. Pathetic.


I prefer the BBC for formula 1 as they have no stupid adverts, they the adverts are a waste of space and money. the adverts never tell the truth what they advertize. also while the adverts are on we are missing too much of formula 1 races etc.


i have to agree with msmelbournegirl

James, do you pass these column urls to the relevant people within F1 and the BBC? i think it would be interesting to see if the decision makers in both camps took any notice of the fans views (as usual here, the real fans make good points)


Well, JA, way to set the cat among the pigeons!!

If nothing else, I think the response to your article has been so passionate, and so overwhelming that I hope the BBC take note and consider doing whatever they can to retain the F1. Their broadcast is second to none, you rarely see any criticism of it. They really could leverage of this and make it a flagship BBC production.


And about time too. Why should the licence fee payer continue to be fleeced by the wealthy?


Perhaps if the BBC got rid of the current team and replaced them with blokes that sound like East End gangsters they could justify keeping F1 as this seems to be the current policy on BBC programming.


I wonder if the private channels are wanting to institute a service similar to US TNT’s “NASCAR RaceBuddy” (which is free). In RaceBuddy, a NASCAR.COM online service, various in-car and other cameras are “set” for the channels. One “channel” is aimed at one car’s in-car, another on a second in-car, one on pit lane, one on the best battle. The six-race package was successful that RaceBuddy was instituted for the Daytona 500 heat races, All-Star Race, and Speed’s Camping World Truck Series package.

Speed announced that for Sunday’s MotoGP (MotoGP class only) round in Monterey, California (Laguna Seca), RaceBuddy-style in-bike coverage (only; MotoGP won’t let them have the pit lane or best battle) will be available on SPEED.COM (US only).

Wonder how much each broadcaster would pay the bill to have F1 RaceBuddy where viewers could log online, watch live in-car streaming, and additional feeds not shown on television. RaceBuddy would compliment the television coverage with the live streams of selected cars, best battles, and pit lane, with a live timing application. I think a network that pays for rights and adds RaceBuddy would benefit.


I live in Poland and here we have F1 broadcasted in HD by free to air TV without commercial breaks. Yet, i still prefere to pay 6$ a month to get access to iPlayer because BBC coverage is simply amazing, with excellent Brundle, Ted Kravitz and F1 forum which i find quite interesting. What i don’t understand is that in 21 century there is lack of pay-per-view service in internet (for example via F1.com) with rich coverage and professional comment. I would pay 20$ monthly subscription for that and i assume many other fans too. I do hope that Adam Parr and Martin Whitmarsh’ voices about F1 presence in internet is just a beginning of the right process. Let the BBC axe F1 and then Bernie hire that whole team to produce stunning F1 coverage like they do it for beebs. Then sell it as PPV worldwide via internet = more money, more revenues for teams, happy fans.


Don’t forget this brilliant resource, when viewing on tv with adverts or not



After years of ad free racing any alternative to the BBC is going to be hard to take for F1 fans. Selfishly if i had the option id rather F1 go to Sky as im a subscriber and they would have brilliant production and give F1 a solid place on their channels not to mention the online, HD and Red button services.

But taking my selfish hat off, obviously its not free to air so a huge amount of F1 fans would miss out or have to pay to get Sky. The solution is to give it to Channel 4. I shudder to think of F1 on Channel 5.


I really hope the coverage stays on the BBC, if only for the lack of ads. Here in Australia, One HD, were a bit unlucky, but they had a shocking British Grand Prix and missed almost all of the key events with ad breaks, and the local hosts don’t do great job of catching up with what was missed when the coverage comes back

Mark in Australia

I must say the level of coverage supplied to us here in Australia on One HD through the BBC is outstanding. (Of course with the extra assistance of experts like James Allen and Tom Clarkson). I only wish we got half the coverage you guys get in the UK with Martin and David’s further insights and special features – I believe Martin drove the Ferrari at Jerez recently on the new rubber???

I believe the BBC coverage streamed into Australia has had a direct and positive impact on the coverage of our own V8 Supercars, which is on a rival free to air television network. It took a few years to get there, and could do with improving further still, but I guess we are spoilt with lots of free to air motorsport.

I am not sure what One HD fork out for the Formula One rights here in Australia, but I am sure Bernie makes a nice quid out of it.

I can only hope the BBC decide to keep F1, or whomever takes over the coverage in the future can maintain the status quo.


James, do you have any idea (and are you able to say..) how much money the BBC gets for selling commentary to other countries (eg Australia, where I am..)? I mean, Is it significant in offsetting the costs of F1 coverage, or is it basically a drop in the ocean?

Also, do you think the BBC’s threats to pull out are a tactic to reduce the cost of the F1 rights, or do you think it’s a genuine threat?


I don’t think they get anything for it. I’m not sure they are the ones selling it..


For someone who stays in India, I dunno where we get the feed from but the coverage I must say is decent and yes We do have AD’s in between. I guess one gets used to it over a period of time. So if in case Beeb drops F1 the people will make a little noise initially but will get along with whatever comes along as something is better than nothing!


£50 million a year sounds a lot, but it’s pretty small beer compared with other tax payer funded things.

Up until this year we have been giving £220 million a year development to China. A counrty that has no difficulty in paying for a GP.

Next year we are giving almost £1 billion aid to India who are planning their own Grand Prix.

The BBC should see out the 5 year contract and then try for a better deal.

Patrick McLaughlin

Living in Ireland I grew up watching BBC coverage of qualifying and race.

I followed the old Sunday Morning warmup, Friday qualifying and practice sessions on Eurosport. (Ben Edwards and John Watson were great !)

BBC did not always treat F1 that well. Its coverage improved in the late 80s until it lost out to ITV for 1997 season.So to be honest this situation comes as no surprise to me.It is obvious quite a few of the decision makers do not value F1 as a sport.

Despite the ad breaks, ITV’s coverage raised the bar. BBC is merely following ITV’s dedication to buildup and analysis. Although thier dedication to practice sessions is most welcome.

I feel we are moving towards an internet broadcast platform. I personally would pay right now for BBC iplayer (Unavailable to me in Ireland). Maybe Chad Hurley and YOUtube will help us out.

This is worth a look for comparison – British Broadcast Rights for FA Premier League.

1992-1997: BSkyB, 60 games/season, £190m – deal value, £633,000/game

1997-2001: BSkyB, 60 games, £670m, £2.79m/game

2001-2004: BSkyB, 110 games, £1.2bn, £3.64m/game

2004-2007: BSkyB, 138 games, £1.024bn, £2.47m/game

2007-2010: BSkyB and Setanta, 138 games, £1.706bn, £4.12m/game

2010-2013: BSkyB/Setanta 138 games, £1.782bn, £4.3m/game

Ps it would not do F1 any harm to allow Youtube to post historic coverage. How many of us have searched Monaco ’92 to find the thrilling last laps blocked ? If FOM allowed this it would further raise the sport’s profile.


Looking back, the original Auntie coverage pre ’97 was poor. They had an act to live up to after the ITV coverage and have done well, with the exception of employing the Latin Teacher. But time moves on. If I have to pay Murdoch, however, then I will in future miss all but the events I attend in person. And that since 1972.


In the US there are internet based alternatives to broadcast with MLB.tv for baseball and NBA League Pass for basketball. If it is the case that the rights will be sold on how about FOM unbundling them so an online HD and uninterrupted alternative could be available? I’d pay up to about £100 for a 20 race season if it meant having the all the race coverage and a good discussion forum before and after.

Current PCs, consoles and dedicated cheap hardware mean this is far more feasible now than even four or five years ago. The changes to the race format and rules don’t lend themselves to commercials as much as in the ITV years. F1’s audience is generally not technically averse and at any rate these technologies are more user friendly and mainstream than in the past.

To echo many comments up the board the only things I watch on tv are F1 and Top Gear (Tour de France this week also). If the BBC are insistent on scrapping half of the only tv I watch I am willing to forgo tv altogether. I know the licence covers live streaming as well but that is unenforceable and a joke.

Without getting too far into licence fees the worry is that in 2018 when the licence conditions are renegotiated it will become a blanket ‘computer’ or ‘connectivity’ licence. Talk about off mission.


Why hasn’t the BBC switched to doing commercials, it seems like a reasonable way to bring in extra money?

Mike from Medellin, Colombia

Maybe Chris Patten wants to spend it on BBC4 in order to increasing coverage of opera or Last Night of the Proms.


It is the BBC’s mission to extend its coverage to what could be judged less popular culture.

To me, it makes sense that opera needs to be shown (and promoted) on TV as much as anything else. I see no reason for suppressing less popular culture (because of a lack of funds) to the benefit of F1 when you can have both. All I would ask is that F1 stays on Free-to-Air and no more than 3 well judged ad breaks (unlike Imola 2005 on ITV) of under 3 minutes.

And yes, I can already hear F1 fans crying foul. 🙂

P.S.: The Last Night of the Proms is has much an institution as the British Grand Prix. It just appeals to a different category of viewers.


I am torn over this. The natural conservative in me finds the very idea of the BBC reprehensible; it doesn’t face competition, people that don’t use its service still have to pay for it, and there’s more than a little political bias in a lot of its programming.

The F1 fan in me appreciates the job the BBC F1 team do. They may not get everything right (I’m thinking of Jonathan Leggard and Eddie Jordan here…) but the lack of adverts, coverage of all practice sessions, the F1 forum, and the huge race day build up are undoubtedly impressive. I don’t think 4 could match that.

The only provider that could, I believe, would be Sky. I think Sky would obviously have adverts, but not during the race (in the same way they don’t have adverts during play in football). They would also have the resources to do F1 well. I hope, sincerely, that if F1 goes anywhere it is to Sky.


It’s worth remembering that a small (but significant enough percentage) of your license fee also goes to Channel 4, which has advertising. The BBC may not be popular with self admitted Conservatives such as Daniel, and I do understand some of their concerns about their content/license fee. However it’s job is to be a neutral broadcaster and is heavily moderated by Government and other bodies. We have a TV service which judging by the comments here, and by many many others around the globe is envied greatly. It often baffles me that people see it as a bad thing.

Anyhow, racing! I think ITV did a terrible job of the coverage and my lifelong passion for the sport almost completely diminished over a couple of years, mostly in part to not being able to get into the flow of a race due to adverts, not to mention a few . I did manager to get around to watching Lewis’s championship win, but they had all but given up on the coverage by then.

I don’t agree that Sky is a good option. F1 has a huge TV audience by most sports standards, but I personally would never purchase Sky just to watch it. While many would (and it’s a shade over £70 a month if you want it with Sports folks) that is really not going to sit well with many fans. As Martin Whitmarsh alluded to in his comments, clearly the sponsors are not so keen on that idea either. I seem to remember Sky had a slogan that said Sky Sports is bringing Sports to the people…. well that is if you’re well off enough to afford £20 odd per month for 4 extra TV channels.

I think Bernie should recognise that the current deal is not immune to the financial pressures of the outside world, and if he and the teams believe the coverage is the best, then drop the price to reflect current circumstances.

So yeah, obviously I want the Beeb to stay, but I fear the worst is coming.


I see it as a bad thing because I have absolutely no choice in the issue of funding it. I also remember the incredibly threatening letters I used to get when I was at University and didn’t have a television (and hence not a TV license) that at the very least were intimidating.

The fact is, if I don’t like Sky I can unsubscribe; if I don’t like ITV I can punish them by not watching (and thus driving their advertisers away). If I don’t like the BBC, I still have to pay for the “pleasure” of their service.

I am not at all surprised that the quality of the (F1) service is envied greatly – it’s top draw. But the people in other countries don’t have to stamp up nearly £150 a year for that service.

Anyway, this isn’t really a debate about the license fee but who would provide the best service, and it seems to me quite clear that Sky would provide the absolute best coverage. As such, that’s what I am hoping for. I don’t think it would be as serious a financial issue as a lot of people believe – as I said before, Concord is up for renewal and with a different set of TV agreements in place the new Concord arrangement could be adjusted to accommodate F1 on Sky.


I agree with Daniel that of all the other broadcasters, Sky have the most clout and the most resources to do F1 some justice, but I still don’t like the idea for other reasons. As I said, I understand that people do not necessarily like the idea of funding the BBC if they don’t use the service, but I just want to delve into that a bit more……

I cannot believe in a country where we bemoan paying £12 a month for something which is arguably the best plural media service in the world, when it costs up to and including £70 a MONTH for the privilege of watching (mostly) football and other sport/repeated movies on Sky TV. Also if F1 moved to Sky, would they provide as good radio and web coverage of the sport? I highly doubt that, yet they would have plenty of money to chuck at it. They are after all, a profit driven company.

And that’s my point, you’d think that for the amount of money you pay for having Sky, the quality of coverage would soar way over and above the BBC, but (judging by their other sports coverage, mostly on a par if not worse than the Beeb) it probably won’t.

Governing bodies of many sports all over the world are trying to move sport from free to air TV to pay TV as much as possible (eg. Sepp Blatter talking about removing World Cup from free to air TV, I kid not….) This kind of attitude is elitist, and spreading quickly.

I just really dislike the idea that one day people who cannot afford Sky or similar pay per view services will lose out on their F1.


Sky’s affordability is an entirely separate financial issue to team funding.

If I don’t want Sky, I don’t have to pay for it. If I can’t afford Sky, I don’t get. If, however, I wanted to enjoy dozens of other free channels (ITV, Five, the free to air digital stations) I still have to pay for the BBC, whether I use the service they provide or not. Sky may be pricey, but it offers a great service that nobody is compelled to take – which is why I like it as an option so much.

Nobody denies the BBC is doing a great job; but so would ITV if they could take their advertisers to court to force them to pay for advertising they didn’t want.


It’s a serious enough financial issue to those who can’t afford Sky.


F1 going to Sky would be the worst thing that could happen. F1 needs to stay on free to air TV.

I agree that they’d do F1 well if they did get it, but I don’t agree that they wouldn’t put adverts during the race. With football they only don’t have adverts for 45 minutes, with a race lasting 1.5 – 2 hours they’d put adverts on about every 15minutes.

The BBC is the best place for the coverage as there are no adverts, if it did go to another broadcaster, then picure in picture during the adverts would be better, but I can’t see a UK broadcaster doing that.

The BBC programming seems to be getting worse. Good quality programs get cut for no reason.

I can see the reason why the BBC want to get out of the contract to broadcast F1 as it’s extremely expensive, perhaps FOM need to wake up in this current financial downturn and cut the cost of the F1 coverage.


I agree, and I didn’t make it clear – the BBC does brilliant coverage and ideally it would remain there (it’s about the only thing I get for my license fee at the end of the day!)

At the same time, I’m not so sure F1 “needs” to be on free to air TV. I think that currently the teams make a big percentage of their money from advertising; on Sky, or any other pay-to-view TV service, they’d have to shift their finance model so they get a bigger share of the TV revenues (which may well be larger).

I think as things stand F1 and pay-to-view TV are not a great fit, but, the Concord Agreement is up for renewal and the sport could be restructured at that point – the same time the BBC contract is due to expire – to make it more suitable for paid for television.


James, I don’t hear any suggestion of it going back to ITV, only Ch4 and Ch5 are mentioned. Do you think ITV would not be interested if the BBC stops coverage?

I was a huge fan of you and Martin as a pairing, and Murray before that. Now I’m a massive fan of Crofty and Ant and can’t imagine a F1 racing weekend without them :'(


ITV brought their contract to a premature end, which is when the BBC took it on.


Watching here in the US on SpeedTV is really pretty good. You Brits have been spoiled for a long time – seems like no-one wants to pay the 135GBP licence fee but everyone wants top class coverage.

Speed streams all the practice sessions live on their website and the ads during the TV coverage are a small price to pay for great HD coverage. Steve Matchett gives great technical explanations and, honestly, commentators are all commentators and there isn’t a world-shattering difference between them all (I’ve watched F1 in UK and Germany also). When coverage switches to FOX for a couple of races mid-season – now that sucks! No pre-race and no post-interviews! 🙁

Seriously guys, it is hard to believe that any of you wouldn’t prefer good F1 coverage with ads versus no coverage at all…


We HAVE to pay the licence fee, we have no choice, that’s why we expect good coverage, but, lesser coverage with ads is better than nothing.

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