Last Sunday saw another fantastic race in the 2011 F1 season, this time coming from the Nürburgring in Germany, where for the first time in 15 races, Sebastian Vettel finished outside of the top 3.
It seemed to be a very happy weekend for Lewis Hamilton as he 'drove the wheels off' his Mclaren all weekend, narrowly missing out on a pole position qualification result but combining a mixture of inspired driving, perfect strategy and a sublime pass on the outside of Fernando Alonso saw him win a very well driven race. A sense of victory will be surely felt by Ferrari also as Fernando Alonso finished 2nd, and only a poor pit stop saw Felipe Massa finish 5th instead of 4th.
However the teams are not the only people who will have sensed a great deal of pride. On the Monday following the race, Jake Humphrey reported on his Twitter feed that the BBC had attracted the highest viewing figures for the German Grand Prix since 1996. an impressive feat by any standards, however this is just the latest accolade in regards to viewer numbers that the BBC can claim.
The Canadian Grand Prix attracted 8m viewers, and the British Grand Prix attracted 6.7m. Bearing in mind that the Canadian Grand Prix show was a prolonged race due to torrential rain and was broadcast live for over 5 hours this is no mean feat.
This makes all the recent uncertainty regarding the broadcasting rights with BBC even more alarming. The rights to broadcast the F1 coverage are currently around £50m per year. However in addition to this, it is costing between £5 - £10m per year in production and staffing costs.
Lord Patten; chairman of the BBC trust has said that F1 on the BBC is no longer affordable. There are imminent budget cuts and potential job losses. This also poses another quandary; the BBC are contracted with the broadcasting rights until 2013. However there has been speculation that they may terminate their contract as early as the end of the season. In doing the likelihood is they would incur a penalty as F1 commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone recently talked of a 'settlement' in an article in the Express.
No matter how optimistic one tries to be, it is clearly an untenable position. However it is imperative to remember the BBC do more just broadcast the race. The coverage is superb, there are pre and post race shows, qualification is also broadcast. There are also live feeds broadcasting the practice sessions on the red button and on the internet, and I often find myself tuned into a practice session whilst working.
The team is a perfect mixture of experience, entertainment and expertise. What the BBC has done for F1 in the UK and around the world is thrust F1 into the mainstream. F1 has now become entertaining, to the non F1 fan. What the BBC now provide is enough whet, increase and satisfy the appetite of the slightly interested F1 follower to the most devout aficionado. Let us not forget that the BBC have won a BAFTA for their F1 coverage, relating back to the final race of the 2010 season in Abu Dhabi. Additionally coverage is constant and devoid of any advertising or commercial breaks.
The only solution, albeit an idealistic one, would be for Mr. Ecclestone to offer a subsidy or a reduction to the BBC, This is unlikely but we must bear in mind that the BBC have provided increased exposure to teams, drivers & sponsors.
What the BBC has done, is to make F1 accessible across a range of different media and platforms. Popularity for the sport has increased and this can surely only be a positive thing.
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