Bernie Ecclestone has dismissed as 'not realistic' an MP's request for 'a clear explanation' of why the full F1 campaign will be shown live only on Sky from next year – and has seemingly backtracked on his earlier assurance that the BBC would show the grands prix it does not broadcast live in their entirety at a delayed hour.
The BBC/Sky deal – reckoned to be worth in the region of £45 million per year, and according to which the News Corp-owned broadcaster will show all of the 20 races, practice and qualifying sessions live, and the Beeb only half of them, to include Silverstone, Monaco and the season finale – has incensed fans in the UK, with many furious at having to henceforth shell out almost £500 annually to watch the GPs as they happen.
Last week, that public backlash extended as far as the House of Commons, with Don Foster – Liberal Democrat MP for Bath and co-chair of the party's backbench committee for Culture, Media and Sport – writing to the BBC's director-general, Mark Thompson, questioning the arrangement and expressing his concerns that the corporation scuppered bids for the F1 coverage from fellow free-to-air broadcasters ITV and Channel 4.
Mr. Foster confessed that he was 'alarmed that there is such a gulf between your stories' and that 'your account of who made the key decisions behind the agreement does not agree with the version of events given by (Ecclestone's company) Formula One Management' [see separate story – click here
“This deal has led to disappointment and anger among F1 fans,” he added, “and now they have to sift through completely contradictory accounts of who decided what. The least fans deserve is a clear explanation of what has happened. I urge you to give it.”
The ever-forthright Ecclestone, however, has dismissed that plea out-of-hand, telling the Daily Express
that 'it is not realistic...he clearly does not understand the situation' and conceding that 'we would have loved to have stayed with the BBC, but they could guarantee nothing'.
What's more, having initially promised teams that the BBC would show full re-runs of the grands prix it does not broadcast live several hours after the chequered flag, the sport's commercial rights-holder now seems to be claiming that only a 75-minute extended highlights package will be available.
At the time of the announcement, McLaren-Mercedes team principal and Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) chairman Martin Whitmarsh had revealed that 'Bernie assured me, and I asked him several times, the deferred coverage will not be highlights, it will be a full race...that, to some fans, will be very important' – but now, according to Pitpass
, Ecclestone has performed a U-turn, admitting that 'the BBC will broadcast 75 minutes of every race...at 6 o'clock at night'.
The average duration of last year's grands prix was 1hr 39m, and the shortest 1hr 16m – still longer than a 75-minute slot would allow – suggesting that viewers are sure to miss out on at least some of the action, and teams fear the £480 annual subscription to the Sky Sports package will turn fans away...and with them, sponsors.
Having only a matter of months ago opined that taking F1 to Sky 'would be suicidal' since 'if you look at their audience, they are nowhere...with these figures it would be almost impossible for teams to find sponsors', Ecclestone now contends that the competition between Sky and the BBC could in fact lead to an improvement in the quality of broadcasting, reasoning: “What I think might happen is Sky might be a bit more aggressive, because the Beeb are very cautious and maybe Sky will steam into them. They don't have to be cautious.”