The crisis engulfing F1 in the shape of the destructive FIA/FOTA civil war has deepened with speculation that should the Formula One Teams' Association dissenters press ahead with their intention to form a rival, manufacturer-spearheaded 'breakaway' series in 2010, the top flight may well lose its £200 million, five-year BBC
television contract into the bargain.
The Beeb reclaimed the rights to broadcast F1 from ITV
, which had hosted it since 1997, when the latter decided late last year to focus its attentions on its football coverage at the expense of other sports, despite British star Lewis Hamilton's world championship triumph. Viewer ratings are currently up on 2008 figures.
Though it has been suggested that, in the absence of any rival bidders, the BBC
overpaid for the privilege of welcoming F1 back again – having been outmanoeuvred by commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone – it now seems that Auntie may have the opportunity to pull the plug, or at the very least renegotiate the terms of the deal.
According to The Guardian
, the BBC
could invoke force majeure
on the basis that with eight of the ten current teams – composed of heavyweights Ferrari, McLaren-Mercedes, BMW-Sauber, Renault and Toyota, as well as Red Bull Racing, Scuderia Toro Rosso and runaway 2009 pace-setters Brawn GP – walking away due to 'unforeseen circumstances', the championship is no longer the same one that existed when the original agreement was signed in good faith.
Such a fundamental alteration in the product, it is believed, would give them a legal right to break the contract, especially as the rebel competitors would almost certainly take their drivers and sponsors with them. That would leave only the dregs of the bottle remaining for the F1 loyalists, including FOTA expellees Williams and Force India and newcomers USF1, Campos and Manor amongst others. Without the lustre of leading names like Ferrari, McLaren, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso to name but a few, Williams CEO Adam Parr has hinted that it would be 'very difficult to raise sponsorship revenues in the future' in F1 [see separate story – click here
Whilst a BBC
spokeswoman insisted that 'we never discuss contracts for reasons of commercial confidentiality', she did acknowledge that the corporation is 'monitoring the situation', as F1 commercial partners and sports marketing experts across the globe hastily analyse the small print for potential get-out clauses. Should any attempt to withdraw, however, their efforts would be sure to be challenged by Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive Ecclestone, thereby leading to yet further court proceedings during a season in which as much action has taken place in the dock as out on the race track.