BBC drops Formula One contract three years early

Lewis Hamilton celebrated his third drivers' title  at the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. Picture: Getty

Lewis Hamilton celebrated his third drivers' title at the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. Picture: Getty

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The BBC has announced that it has “reluctantly” ended its Formula One contract three years early.

The corporation regained the exclusive broadcasting rights to grand prix racing in 2009 before agreeing a seven-year deal to share the rights with Sky Sports in 2012.

But the BBC, which has announced a £35 million cut in its sports rights budget, said yesterday it has withdrawn from its deal prematurely.

Channel 4 will take over the terrestrial rights from the BBC after it revealed it had signed a three-year deal.

In September, the BBC dropped coverage of golf’s Open Championship a year earlier than planned with Sky Sports to take over at Royal Troon next year.

“The current financial position of the BBC means some tough and unwanted choices have to be made,” said the BBC’s director of sport, 
Barbara Slater.

“A significant chunk of BBC Sport’s savings target will be delivered through the immediate termination of our TV rights agreement for Formula One.

“Any decision to have to stop broadcasting a particular sport or sporting event is hugely disappointing and taken reluctantly.

“There are no easy solutions; all of the options available would be unpopular with audiences.”

It had been reported that ITV, who enjoyed the exclusive broadcasting rights to Formula One between 1997 and 2008, were ready to take over from the BBC.

But that terrestrial void will now be filled by Channel Four who will broadcast ten races live – without commercial breaks – and screen extensive highlights of the remaining 11 races scheduled for 2016.

Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One’s chief executive, said: “I am sorry that the BBC could not comply with their contract but I am happy that we now have a broadcaster that can broadcast Formula One events without commercial intervals during the race.

“I am confident that Channel 4 will achieve not only how the BBC carried out the broadcast in the past but also with a new approach as the world and Formula One have moved on.”

David Abraham, Channel 4 chief executive, added: “Formula One is one of the world’s biggest sporting events with huge appeal to British audiences.

“I’m delighted to have agreed this exciting new partnership with Bernie Ecclestone to 
keep the sport on free-to-air television.”

Lewis Hamilton claimed his second consecutive title in Austin in October and his victory at the Canadian Grand Prix in June attracted 5.6 million viewers on the BBC.

But its Formula One coverage is said to have cost the BBC £20m each year.

With the loss of F1 and the Open Championship, the corporation’s portfolio of live annual sporting events has been reduced to the FA Cup, rugby league’s Challenge Cup and Wimbledon.

They will also share the broadcasting rights with ITV for rugby’s Six Nations from next year.

Speaking on Friday, Ecclestone said: ‘’The Beeb have always done a very, very good job. I have no problem at all with them.

“It is just they can’t afford to continue with what they have done in the past.’’

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