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Motor Racing

Pacy Hamilton upstaged by Ecclestone deal

The art of the ringmaster is to run the show, but yesterday Bernie Ecclestone indulged in a little of the magician's sleight of hand as well when news broke at the Hungaroring that from next season until 2018 the television coverage of Formula One will be split between the BBC and Sky Sports.

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It drew a vitriolic reaction from fans, who expressed their anger at having to pay to watch their sport and pointed to his recent protestations that it would always be available on free-to-air television.

The news completely overshadowed Lewis Hamilton's domination of both sessions of practice for the Hungarian GP.

The BBC made it clear they wanted to end the expense – "north of £45m annually," according to inside sources – of broadcasting F1 until 2013, while Sky are keen to add it to a sporting portfolio that already includes football, golf, cricket and horse racing.

According to a BBC statement, the unusual and unexpected partnership entails "all races, qualifying and practice sessions being shown live on Sky Sports across TV, online and mobile and tablet devices, while half the races and qualifying sessions will remain live on BBC TV, online and mobile, including key races such as the British Grand Prix, Monaco Grand Prix and the final race of the season".

Thus, under a deal that only Ecclestone could have engineered, Sky have effectively become the rights holder for the next seven years, but the BBC will continue to transmit coverage at the same time, thus fulfilling the free-to-air requirement for half the events.

Graeme Lowden, managing director of the Marussia Virgin Racing team, said: "It's early stages, and like most people we only found out this morning, so it'll be interesting to see how it unravels and there are different sides.

"Sky say it's good news for the fans and will give them an unparalleled experience, which sounds exciting, but it'll be up to the fans whether they think it's good news or not and that remains to be seen. For a team like us who get very little of their revenue from TV rights, it's very important for our commercial strategy to maximise our global fanbase and obviously there are concerns there, but we are entering a new era for commercial models of F1. But the model here has to reflect the interest of the fans, there must be no disconnect with that.

"Obviously things change, but the concern of the fans must always be reflected in those changes. They are crucial to the profitability and sustainability of the teams, and it's important that F1's plans for the future include their views in order for that future to play out."

Out on the track, Hamilton headed both sessions, raising hopes that McLaren's form in Germany last weekend, where he won, was no flash in the pan. In the faster session, in the afternoon, the Englishman lapped his McLaren in 1min 21.018sec to head Fernando Alonso and his own team-mate Jenson Button on 1min 21.259sec and 1min 21.372sec respectively. The Red Bulls of last year's winner Mark Webber and the runaway world championship leader Sebastian Vettel were fourth and fifth.

"It's a great feeling to start the weekend on a high," Hamilton said. "We had a much smoother Friday here than we did at the Nürburgring, so I'm pretty happy. The car looks reasonably competitive, given the balance and the fuel load that we had.

"It's important not to read too much into Fridays, though. The track may be different tomorrow, as may the temperatures. Having said that, I think we've probably got about the same pace as we had in Germany, which is encouraging."