“You won’t be sur­prised to learn that I’ve got strong feel­ings about the BBC’S de­ci­sion to aban­don F1”

F1 Racing (UK) - - CHEQUERED FLAG -

You might ex­pect those feel­ings to be of rage or con­dem­na­tion, but they’re not. The BBC didn’t opt out through lack of en­thu­si­asm, but be­cause they had to make sav­ings as a re­sult of govern­ment fund­ing cuts. You and I may feel sav­ings should have been made else­where, but, sadly, we’re not in charge. So my re­ac­tion is one of sad­ness and re­gret at the loss to F1 of a great or­gan­i­sa­tion and the team they cre­ated.

Sad­ness and re­gret be­cause the BBC are re­spon­si­ble for the his­toric es­tab­lish­ment and growth of in­ter­est in F1 through­out the English- speak­ing world. When, in 1978, as a re­sult of en­thu­si­asm for F1 gen­er­ated by James Hunt’s 1976 cham­pi­onship vic­tory, they de­cided to cover all the races in­stead of just the oc­ca­sional one, they did so with just half-hour high­lights, but then steadily ramped up their in­volve­ment un­til they were gar­ner­ing au­di­ences of 5-6 mil­lion view­ers in the UK, plus thou­sands more in Aus­tralia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and ev­ery­where else that English was spo­ken.

James Hunt left the cock­pit to join me in the com­men­tary box for 13 mem­o­rable years and while we didn’t al­ways see eye to eye, the pub­lic liked the com­bi­na­tion of my ex­cite­ment and James’s au­thor­i­ta­tive and provoca­tive ob­ser­va­tions. “The trou­ble with Jarier is that he’s a French wally – al­ways has been and al­ways will be.” How the view­ers loved his out­spo­ken­ness!

But noth­ing lasts for ever. The BBC were so suc­cess­ful that the bet­ter-funded ITV thought: “We’ll have a bit of that” and out­bid the Beeb in 1996. “I didn’t make the change just be­cause of the money” Bernie Ec­cle­stone told me. “They’ll do it bet­ter.” And, from 1997, they did, build­ing on the Beeb’s lower-bud­get pro­gram­ming, while pro­duc­tion com­pany North One did a great job with in­creased trans­mis­sion time, bet­ter fa­cil­i­ties, more peo­ple and in­no­va­tive con­tent.

While the BBC licked their wounds ITV reaped their re­ward, only to trip up over the same prob­lem the BBC had faced in 1996: money. They needed more of it for foot­ball, so, in 2009, off they went and back came the BBC now with, seem­ingly, enough funds to do the job.

But, as I say, noth­ing lasts for ever. For years Sky TV had been lust­ing af­ter F1, and in 2012 they struck a deal us­ing the prom­ise of a ded­i­cated For­mula 1 chan­nel, great en­thu­si­asm and seem­ingly bot­tom­less pock­ets. The re­sult was bril­liant and the BBC was de­moted to poor re­la­tion, in spite of which they con­tin­ued, in my view, to do a great job. But now they’re out.

I had many won­der­ful years with the BBC; with ITV, too, plus con­tri­bu­tions to Sky. Work­ing with BBC and ITV heads of sport Jonathan Martin and Brian Bar­wick and other greats, such as Steve Rider, Jim Rosen­thal, Neil Dun­can­son of North One, Sir Jackie Ste­wart, James Hunt, Jonathan Palmer, Gra­ham Hill, Jody Scheck­ter, Alan Jones and the com­men­tary box col­league with whom I was hap­pi­est of all: Martin Brun­dle.

Yet I owe what I’ve achieved to the BBC and mourn their de­par­ture. Still, it con­soles me that, in ad­di­tion to Sky TV’S su­perb cov­er­age for those who can af­ford it, we’ll still have free-to-air cov­er­age from Chan­nel 4, and I hope that, in ad­di­tion to David Coulthard, they’ll ap­point oth­ers from the ex­cel­lent for­mer BBC team, too.”

So my deep­est sym­pa­thy to the BBC, my best wishes to Sky and Chan­nel 4, and to Bernie Ec­cle­stone my thanks for let­ting us have a choice of riv­et­ing cov­er­age of our great sport.

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