Ian Burrell: Scared of spinning out of race, BBC lets Sky pass


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The Independent Online

Of all people, you would have thought that the BBC Formula One commentator Martin Brundle might have spotted something in his rear-view mirrors. But even Brundle, a former Formula One driver himself, was caught out.

"Found out last night, no idea how it will work yet. I'm out of contract, will calmly work through options. Not impressed," he posted on his Twitter feed yesterday morning, still clearly shocked by the news that Sky Sports had forced itself to the front of the F1 grid.

The BBC presenter Jake Humphrey was no less stunned. Appealing for perspective, he compared the event to the Norway massacre ("it's only sport") and wrote in the London Evening Standard what was almost an obituary for the Beeb's F1 coverage, saying "how proud I am of the past two-and-a-half years".

The reality is that F1 will remain on the BBC, although only half of the season's 20 races will be shown live by the corporation. It will get the first three picks (inevitably the British Grand Prix, Monaco and the final race). Then Sky will move in and take the next three choicest races, with the remaining choices made alternately. Races that are exclusively live on Sky will be shown on the BBC as extended highlights.

It is not so much an audacious passing manoeuvre of the type we have come to expect from Lewis Hamilton, but a case of the lead car (the Beeb) giving space to the overtaking driver (BSkyB) for fear of being dumped out of the race altogether.

BBC sources were yesterday congratulating themselves on a move that has saved up to £30m a year, at a time when BBC Sport needs to deliver some hefty cuts. Had the partnership deal not been clinched, the BBC might have lost all F1 television coverage in two years' time. The BBC has invested a lot in the sport (live broadcasts will continue on Radio 5 Live) and recently won a Bafta award for its coverage of last season's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

For Sky this is new territory, but the broadcaster believes it can do for F1 what it has done for coverage of football, cricket and golf. As well as the qualifying races (which the BBC will also cover when it has live rights), Sky will be showing practice sessions as well. The offering will be made available on the new Sky Go app for mobile devices.

Earlier this year it emerged that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp had held exploratory talks to buy the whole of the F1 circus. The media mogul has had his problems recently and for the time being he must be content with BSkyB (in which News Corp has a 39.1 per cent share) having attached its brand to the sport. The BBC still has a place on the lower reaches of the podium but it's the satellite broadcaster cracking open the Jeroboam.

Who has 'Crown Jewels?'

The Sporting 'Crown Jewels' are those events which are said to be of particular public interest and, as such, are generally compelled to sell their TV broadcasting rights to terrestrial networks.

*Football: The FA Cup, formerly on the BBC, is shared between ITV and ESPN.

*Olympics: Likely to be a bidding war for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.

*Horse Racing: The BBC has rights to the Grand National and the Derby.

*Tennis: BBC hold the Wimbledon rights until 2014.

*Rugby League: Sky have retained the broadcasting rights for Super League until 2016 in a £90m deal.

*F1: From next year, the BBC will share TV with Sky, broadcasting only half the races. The deal lasts until 2018.

*Cricket: Sky have the Test match contract until at least 2014.