The timing of BBC
's supposed exit as an F1 broadcaster could have financial implications for the company, amid reports that it could face a £50m bill if it drops the coverage before the end of its contract.
The British broadcaster is scheduled to cover the sport until the end of the 2013 season, but such is its financial status, there are executives advising that the best course of action would be to drop the rumoured £60m a year burden with immediate effect. Bernie Ecclestone, however, insists that he would want the contract to be honoured in full, or be forced to levy a compensation claim against the BBC
, whose English language commentary is also taken up by overseas broadcasters.
“It would be like any contract I sign with people, either on my side or theirs – it has to be honoured,” he told Britain's Daily Express
newspaper in the build-up to this weekend's German GP, “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."
Despite his words of warning, Ecclestone is keen for the BBC
to remain on board, having been impressed by what the organisation has done with its F1 coverage since taking over from rival ITV
at the start of the 2009 season. He has again stated that the sport would remain on a 'free-to-air' basis, effectively ruling out Sky
's interest in acquiring the rights - a story that has run and run since rumours of the BBC
's money problems first surfaced, and perpetuated via disgraced News International's various media outlets.
“The BBC have done a great job and we obviously do our part in supplying great sporting entertainment," Ecclestone continued, “Just look at their viewing figures - they keep going up. The Canadian Grand Prix lasted all afternoon and they had a huge audience of eight million, and took a lot when they went over to BBC2. The British Grand Prix was another success, with over six million watching, [and] I would like them to continue as they are doing, but it is about making clever decisions by those who have to.”
and Channel 4
have expressed an interest in taking up the coverage should the BBC
decide to opt out, and Ecclestone has admitted that hen would be keen to bring relative newcomer Channel 5
to the party as well. Despite Ecclestone's comments, Sky
too continues to show interest, sending key executives to recent races. Ironically, the BBC
took over the coverage when ITV
decided to drop F1 two years before the end of its deal with Ecclestone.
Keeping the F1 coverage, and the expense that goes with it - the rights alone are rumoured to cost the organisation £45m a year with staffing and infrastructure costs on top of that - would not sit well when a tenth of all staff at the organisation are facing redundancy. However, former ITV
commentator, and long-standing F1 journalist, James Allen believes that the BBC
's coverage could live for one more year, before ducking out at the end of 2012.