Responses from the BBC & the F1 paddock
Everything about the BBC’s reaction to the backlash following the announcement suggests two things: that they genuinely thought the fans would believe this was a good deal for them; and that they clearly didn’t believe they would need any justification for the decision – which in itself doesn’t show the BBC in a particularly good light. After a few hours, as they began to see the scale of the reaction from the fans, they decided to post some background to the decision on the Sport Editor’s blog, as I mentioned above. Due to the lack of detail in the post, and the absence of even a hint of apology, this did little to quiet the fans.
The BBC then proceeded to make things worse for themselves by refusing to discuss the new deal in any shape or form during their coverage of the Hungarian Grand Prix. Whilst the BBC F1 team may have wished to maintain focus on the racing, rather than talking about themselves, the manner in which this absence of discussion came across suggested that every member of the team had been gagged by BBC Sport. Only Martin Brundle expressed an opinion, via his Twitter account, before the weekend was over: “BBC/Sky/F1 2012+. Found out last night, no idea how it will work yet I’m out of contract, will calmly work through options Not impressed”.
However, the BBC’s reaction pales in comparison to that from the F1 paddock which can at best be described as disingenuous; at worst it is arrogant, out-of-touch, and downright hypocritical.
For the past few months, with the ongoing speculation over the future of the BBC’s involvement with F1, the fans have been treated to comments suggesting that the BBC losing Formula 1 would be “disastrous”, and that the teams would not accept F1 no longer being free-to-air. Martin Whitmarsh, in his role as chairman of FOTA, made this crystal clear: “It’s crucial to the commercial model of Formula 1 that TV coverage should remain free-to-air, and therefore universally accessible, and therefore widely consumed and enjoyed by large numbers of viewers – and the BBC delivers that in the UK.” Even Bernie Ecclestone has been repeatedly stating that F1 would under no circumstances move to Sky or any other form of pay-TV. Now though, everyone is singing a different tune.
Bernie Ecclestone is infamous for the U-turns he has performed in the past, and yet he still manages to surprise. His comments since the announcement, to both the teams and the press, indicate that he believes that not only is the new deal an improvement for F1, but it will cause an increase in viewing figures.
Incredulous as this is, it seems that the teams actually believe him. Martin Whitmarsh, Colin Kolles & Adam Parr, of McLaren, HRT and Williams respectively, have publicly given the deal their seal of approval; furthermore, they have indicated that the entire paddock now supports the deal.
However, in league with F1′s standard operating procedure, the teams seem determined to make things worse for themselves. Martin Whitmarsh has commented that he understood that “there won’t be a premium for watching Formula 1 on Sky”, and that “We [Formula 1] have to reach out to fans, listen to them”. Eager to continue digging the hole, Colin Kolles came out with the following: “If you would ask my colleagues after the meeting with Bernie Ecclestone, everybody is very happy. Bernie has shown again to his people, who are criticising him, what fantastic deals he has done”.
And yet, the arrogance displayed by Adam Parr in his statements to the media takes it to a whole new level. For a full account please read the article on Pitpass, but the following extracts demonstrate his attitude perfectly: “…it costs, on average…£1.2billion a year to put the show on… That money has to come from somewhere.”, followed by “I’d like the fans…to be a bit more supportive of some of the things we are trying to do to reduce the cost in the sport.”
So let me get this straight – Formula 1 believes that despite the fact that they receive around a billion pounds a year in sponsorship and other revenues, the fans should pay handsomely for the privilege of allowing them to go racing. This is undoubtedly the biggest problem with F1 today – that everyone involved ultimately cares only about themselves, rather than for the people who give a reason for Formula 1 to exist.