Pay us the same as Clarkson – or we quit!

Between them, they have shrugged off criticism for ramming a 300-year-old chestnut tree, sipping gin and tonics at the wheel of a car and dashing to the North Pole in a gas-guzzling 4x4.

But it seems the testosterone-fuelled harmony of Britain's leading trio of petrolheads is in danger of disintegrating over the delicate matter of who is paid what to present Top Gear.

While Jeremy Clarkson, the denim-clad high priest of the nation's unreconstructed middle-aged males, makes a reputed £1m a year to host the BBC's hugely popular – and lucrative – motoring programme, his co-presenters, Richard Hammond and James May, have long been relegated to a lower pay bracket of about £15,000 per show.

But after Hammond, 38, recently raised his profile via the unorthodox method of crashing a jet-powered dragster at more than 200mph and May, 45, branched out into the world of wine with a BBC2 series alongside oenophile Oz Clarke, there are now fears that they may be about to leave Top Gear by refusing to sign new contracts.

Negotiations between the presenters and BBC managers are understood to have ground to a halt after they insisted their irreverent brand of weekly worship of the combustion engine deserved similar financial reward to that of Clarkson, 48, whose stream of books, DVDs and newspaper columns earned him £1.7m last year.

Agents for both men are believed to have argued that they have emerged from the leather blouson-shaped shadow of Clarkson because of the response to Hammond's near-fatal crash in 2006 and May's success in Oz and James' Big Wine Adventure. BBC managers say Top Gear remains their main "shop window" and they should be paid less than their high-profile co-host.

The current six-programme series of Top Gear, which regularly attracts more than eight million viewers, is to end this summer and, although the team are contracted for a 12th series in the autumn, all plans for subsequent runs of the cult show have been put on hold.

A source close to the negotiations said: "Richard and James are adamant that they will no longer be second rankers to Jeremy on this. They feel they all have similar profiles now and should be receiving similar fees. It is possible one of them, or both, might feel compelled to leave."

A BBC spokeswoman said: "We never comment on specific contract negotiations."

Since its arrival in its current format in 1995, Top Gear has become one of the BBC's most loved and profitable franchises, with multiple spin-offs including a magazine and a road show.

Despite falling foul of critics and regulators for some of their more irresponsible stunts, the adventures of Stig, the enigmatic test driver, and the programme's excoriating reviews of some mass-production hatchbacks are screened in 28 countries from Denmark to Ukraine and have a global audience of more than 200 million. Deals have recently been signed for the US and Australia to make their own versions. Last month, Clarkson signed a new deal with BBC Worldwide, the corporation's commercial arm, which is thought to give him a share of the profits made from Top Gear's international sales.

The programme's success is based on a mixture of outlandish stunts, including playing ice hockey with Suzuki jeeps, and an unapologetic pursuit of a speed-freak agenda.

The trio have frequently fallen foul of critics and regulators. A race across the Arctic Circle in a pick-up truck was branded "highly irresponsible" by Greenpeace and the BBC was forced to pay £250 to residents of a Somerset village after it emerged that damage to ancient horse chestnut tree was caused during filming of a "strength test" for a 4x4 vehicle.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas