Graeme Lowdon, the sporting director of the Virgin Racing team, has said that F1 is 'served much better in the world of free-to-air' television after rumours emerged linking Rupert Murdoch's News Corp group with the sport.

Reports last week suggested that News Corp was looking into the formation of a consortium to try and secure control of F1, although another possible option being viewed was to secure broadcast rights to the sport when the current five-year deal with the BBC - which started in 2009 - comes to an end.

If such a move were to occur and Murdoch's BskyB were to gain broadcast rights, it would take F1 away from free-to-air coverage onto pay-per-view TV for the first time in the UK, although F1 Digital+ did run alongside terrestrial coverage on ITV back in 2002.

One issue could be linked into the Concorde Agreement that governs the sport, which is believed to contain a clause stating that F1 has to be broadcast free-to-air in major markets due the larger audiences that can be gained compared to pay-per-view coverage.

However, discussions are ongoing regarding the latest version of the Agreement, which runs out in 2012, with the possibility that pay-per-view coverage could be seen as way to bring in additional revenue in the short-term from a broadcaster prepared to offer the money required to secure broadcast rights.

Rumours have already suggested that BBC bosses are questioning the viability of showing F1 coverage at a time when pressure is being put on them to make savings [See separate story HERE].

Despite the potential for short-term income however, Lowdon said he felt the sport was better off staying free-to-air in an attempt to boost popularity, rather than chasing the short-term fix that pay-per-view would offer.

"F1 is an incredibly popular sport," he told the BBC. "It's talked about by people. It's the ultimate team game and the drivers are the heroes. If you remove the majority of the public, it removes a lot of the spirit of what F1 is about, as well as the ability for the teams to stand on our own two feet without reliance on the commercial rights holder.

"It's more important that we have an agenda that grows the popularity of the sport than one that gazes inwardly. F1 is way bigger than pay-per-view and deserves its place on the global stage with the viewing figures it gets. We would be concerned if the sport was heading towards a pay-per-view only model.

"The biggest mistake any team can make is to assume you'll never be at the bottom. Look at Williams. They have called it themselves a poor start to the season, and that's an extremely good team. Anyone who assumes they'll always win and argues the financial model on those lines at some stage could come a cropper.

"There are a lot of examples in football - lots of teams have built their model on winning the championship. But only one can win and (beyond that) there's wreckage."

Lowdon added that a pay-per-view model for F1 wouldn't be beneficial to every team on the grid, with everyone benefitting from the audience provided by a free-to-air market.

"We have tried to highlight that the model for F1 needs to make sense for the team with the least resources," he said. "The attraction of free-to-air is it gives you more opportunity to diversify your revenue streams. If we go pay-per-view and find people use other (TV) channels, then we're at risk. At least if you have underlying popularity, you can get your revenue.

"I'd be surprised if a race headlong into pay-per-view would provide F1 with the defences (it needs). Free-to-air provides you with so much flexibility - it means the business is less at risk than if you put all your eggs in one basket."



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