For the 2009 season, televised coverage of Formula One will return to the BBC for the first time in twelve years. ITV, who have held the rights to screen F1 since the start of the 1997 season, cited commercial reasons for not wishing to extend their contract. The undisclosed five year deal which ends in 2013, masterminded by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, will also include online and radio coverage.
A “delighted” Bernie Ecclestone stated that although he was happy with the existing relationship with ITV, he felt the BBC would be able to devote more time to the racing series.
“It’s not that we are unhappy with ITV but I think maybe they will have their hands full with other things and maybe the BBC can service us a bit better. I think they will be able to service us an awful lot better, a little bit more time. I think it will be good, a fresh face.”
“I’m not complaining about ITV, I’m not saying they did a bad job or anything like that. But with all the other things they are loaded up with – and who knows they will get some more stuff – maybe it will be a bit more difficult to spend as much time on us. I think the BBC will do that,” he continued.
Speaking on behalf of the BBC, Director of Sports Rights, Dominic Coles, added “The biggest Motorsport event in the world is returning home after 12 years. We were delighted when Bernie Ecclestone approached us about the return of F1 to the BBC. F1 is a crown jewel of sports broadcasting, so to bring the rights back to their traditional home from 2009 is tremendously exciting. Fans will be able to enjoy uninterrupted, state of the art and innovative coverage from BBC Sport, across all of our TV, radio and new media platforms, for the first time since 1996.”
In a press statement by ITV, the broadcaster promised to continue to cover events in the fashion to which fans were accustomed for the remainder of the 2008 season.
“ITV plc today confirmed that it has decided to exit Formula One at the end of this season. This was a straightforward commercial decision for ITV and we are pleased that F1 will continue to be broadcast free-to-air. ITV will continue to broadcast live coverage of every race this season as Lewis Hamilton attempts to win his first world championship.”
Fans must now wait to see whether the BBC will retain some of the existing ITV team (of which Brundle is a clear favourite to stay), or instead wheel Murray Walker out of retirement along with their iconic theme music by Fleetwood Mac. It is also unclear whether the Beeb will opt to show live coverage of testing, and races in full High Definition format (HD) – but one if for sure, live coverage will no longer be interrupted by commercial breaks!