F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has defended the decision that will see only half of the races screened live on free-to-air TV in the UK from next year - and he is adamant the new arrangement will actually 'grow the audience'.

News the BBC and Sky Sports will jointly transmit F1 from next season onwards broke on Friday [see separate story - click here], and it has left fans fuming, with veteran F1 commentator Murray Walker amongst those to express his dismay, along with the likes of Sir Stirling Moss and Martin Brundle, who tweeted he was 'not impressed'.

Under the new agreement, which runs from 2012-2018, Formula One Management will gain ?455 million in total, with the BBC now paying ?20 million per year - instead of ?40 million - while Sky stumps up an additional ?45 million per year to gain the rights to screen every event. Despite the significant boost to Ecclestone's coffers though, he insisted it was 'not just about money'.

"If the BBC had stayed alone they would not have had the money to continue as they do now. It would have been like the old days - no build-up and when the cars finish, the programme finishes. The lights go out, that's it," he told the Daily Mail.

"They spend a lot of money on F1 and do a super job but they have to cut a lot of money. I do understand that, so do they, but things would not have continued as they were. The situation was simple. It was not just about money, it was about doing what is best for F1.

"The BBC did a great job but together with Sky we will get even better coverage. Look at what Sky do with other sports, they have very good ideas. It will grow the audience, I am sure of it."

Speaking in a separate interview with the Press Association ahead of this Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix, Ecclestone also added - remarkably - that 'people will be more happy with this than they are at the moment'.

"This is good for F1," he added. "There are going to be a lot more people viewing, and a lot more opportunities for people to view, so from that point I'm very happy.

"The thing is we do have to do the best we can, and I'm interested in getting the maximum coverage because we have to invest in the future for the good of the teams and for F1.

"For those who can't watch Sky, they can still watch on a Sunday night, which will probably be better than watching the whole race live half the time.

"I think in the end people will be more happy with this than they are at the moment," he concluded.


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