Brundle on pole for switch to Sky

Fallout from TV coup upstages Vettel-Hamilton grid battle
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The Independent Online

Martin Brundle looks likely to be the main beneficiary when Sky Sports take over as Formula One's main broadcasters from the BBC under the seven-year rights deal revealed last week. Although the commentator tweeted his unhappiness at the news of the switch on Friday, he has quickly emerged as the main target for Rupert Murdoch's team.

Brundle's contract with the BBC expires at the end of the year and yesterday the Hungaroring circuit outside Budapest, venue for today's Hungarian GP, was alive with speculation that the popular broad-caster, who admits he is "calmly working through his options'', will switch microphones next season.

His signature would be a major coup for Sky, who are known to admire the energy and experience he brings to the commentary booth.

Many fans are incensed at the way Sky have muscled in on the action. Nobody knows many of the details, apart from the TV executives and Formula One's ringmaster, Bernie Ecclestone. Even he admits he is still finalising some of them.

It seems likely the impecunious Beeb, anxious to offload a commitment reckoned by insiders to be upwards of £45 million annually as they strive to slice 20 per cent off their costs, approached Sky with a deal that was then taken to Ecclestone. The aftershocks were still being felt yesterday. "Potentially, but based on the reaction on the internet, viewing figures could drop like a stone, as F1 fans aren't prepared to pay, which will mean the sponsors are less willing to pay, which forces the poorer teams [Virgin, HRT, Sauber, Williams] out, which leaves a small grid, which pushes viewing figures down, which attracts fewer fans and the cycle continues," one fan said.

"Football survived because people can actually go to see it in the flesh, while sports like cricket and rugby don't have enough money going around for the switch to pay TV to make a huge difference. This is a mistake, and everyone except the BBC, Sky and Bernie knows it!"

Surprised team principals, to whom the fans' views are crucially important, went into hyperdrive as they also sought Ecclestone's assurance that the deal would not contravene the existing Concorde Agreement with the teams, which runs until the end of 2012. But the man himself was unmoved. "It's good for Formula One," he said. "For sure there are going to be a lot more people viewing, and a lot more opportunities for people to view, so from that point I'm happy.

"I've been finalising this all night long and one or two things might change a little. Sky will broadcast everything, all the races, live. The Beeb will do 50 per cent live, and when it isn't live, they will be putting together a very good highlights package. They may yet do the whole race deferred, we have to see."

He conceded that the problem is the fans who cannot afford Sky subscriptions. "I know, but from what I understand Sky has enormous coverage, 10 million homes. For those who can't watch Sky, they can still watch on a Sunday night, which will probably be better than watching the whole race live half the time."

Some believe such a hybrid deal has long been inevitable, that some form of pay-per-view is now part and parcel of all global sports coverage. Others see the need to re-engineer a deal that the BBC no longer want is confirmation that even F1 is no longer immune from the economic squeeze affecting so many UK viewers.

For sure, Ecclestone now has a seven-year bankable asset that he can use to "discourage" the teams from thoughts of a breakaway champion-ship, should their upcoming Concorde Agreement negotiations fail.

On the track, a great qualifying session saw Sebastian Vettel bounce back to take pole position for Red Bull, but Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button start second and third for McLaren.

"We knew from Nürburgring that we had good pace, and yesterday was a good day," Hamilton said, "but the others seemed to pick up pace today."

Button, facing his 200th grand prix start, was also content: "That was good. We've thought a lot of races would be straightforward this year, but with KERS and the Pirellis they haven't been. It's a big day for me."

Hungarian Grand Prix grid

1. S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1min 19.815sec

2. L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:19.978

3. J Button (GB) McLaren 1:20.024

4. F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:20.350

5. F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:20.365

6. M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:20.474

7. N Rosberg (Ger) Mercs 1:21.098

8. A Sutil (Ger) F Ind 1:21.445

9. M Schumacher (Ger) Mercs 1:21.907

10. S Perez (Mex) Sauber. No Q3 time

11. P Di Resta (GB) F India 1:22.256

12. V Petrov (Rus) Renault 1:22.284

13. K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber 1:22.435

14. N Heidfeld (Ger) Renault 1:22.470

15. R Barrichello (Br) Williams 1:22.684

16. J Alguersuari (Sp) T Rosso 1:22.979

17. P Maldonado (Ven) Williams. No Q2 time

18. H Kovalainen (Fin) T Lotus 1:24.362

19. J Trulli (It) T Lotus 1:24.534

20. T Glock (Ger) Virgin 1:26.294

21. V Liuzzi (It) HRT 1:26.323

22. D Ricciardo (Aus) HRT 1:26.479

23. S Buemi (Swit) T Rosso 1:24.070

24. J D'Ambrosio (Bel) Virgin 1:26.510