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Is F1 too expensive for BBC?

14 March 2011

The BBC is apparently considering ending its coverage of F1 in a bid to cut the amount it is spending on sports programming, despite the apparent success of the partnership since grand prix racing returned from rival ITV.

The broadcaster, which reclaimed F1 in 2009, is being advised to reduce its sports expenditure, which is understood to be around £300m a year, by a fifth over the next three years. With both the F1 contract and that of the Wimbledon tennis championships due to expire by 2014, they are seen as the most obvious candidates for the axe, although some high-profile presenters are also rumoured to be under threat.

Although the F1 coverage - which extends to 'red button' scheduling of all practice sessions - has proven popular with race fans, it is acknowledged to appeal to a relatively narrow, and often off-peak, audience and, with an annual cost of £40m per year, is seen as an expense that the BBC can do without in a time of financial caution, particularly after the revenue-generating licence fees were frozen in 2010.

With the broadcaster's football coverage deemed sacrosanct, and therefore safe from the axe, and even Wimbledon, which has been broadcast since 1937, seen as something of an institution that many would fight to preserve, F1 appears to be the most vulnerable of the BBC's sporting 'jewels', even though the 2011 season will see a third British driver, Paul di Resta, join the grid with Force India, alongside world champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, whose recent success has been something of a ratings winner.

With local radio and regional television programming also reportedly under threat, impending BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten has admitted that 'all hell will break loose' when the full range of cost-cutting ideas is made public, although disposing of highly-paid presenters may be more easily accepted by viewers. Among those being named is former England international and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, who is rumoured to receive around £1m a year for his services.

Former drivers Martin Brundle and David Coulthard will head up the BBC's F1 commentary team in 2011, while erstwhile team boss Eddie Jordan continues to accompany presenter Jake Humphrey as an anchor.


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