Christopher Sharp looks at the future of BBC motor sport coverage.
The BBC is currently in a state of crisis, having announced that it is having to make cuts to its services. The corporation is now deciding what to cut and where to cut it. With £35 million being cut from its sport budget there is a danger that it may cease coverage of the Formula One World Championship. Fans may be denied free live coverage of the races forcing them to either sign-up for a Sky-TV subscription or stop watching the sport altogether.
The cuts have, however, created another question; is it time for the BBC to diversify its motorsport coverage? Formula One may be the most famous but it is certainly not the only major motor-racing series out there and nor is it the most high-tech. The World Endurance Championship and Formula E are two suggestions that resonate strongly in the minds of motorsport fans.
The World Endurance Championship or WEC for short, is the most advanced motor-racing series on the planet and, arguably, the most exciting. With four categories, fifty-six racing cars and no overtaking aids, the series is growing in popularity year on year. But why should the BBC switch from Formula One, a travelling band that goes to the most glamorous destinations on the planet attracting the biggest stars from the world of society?
Here’s why. On one count the WEC has nine races scheduled for 2016 as opposed to Formula One’s twenty-one, meaning less disruption to a weekend TV Schedule and lower costs. The cars themselves are also an extra impetus with the top hybrids producing over 1000bhp compared to the 850 of modern F1 cars. The technology too, is far in advance of Formula One; as well as the diversity of the top class, LMP1, each team has a different hybrid system and combustion engine providing fantastic analytical possibilities for pundits and fans alike.
By the far the biggest draw however, is the event in June, the Le Mans 24 Hours, the most famous race in motorsport. But why, do you ask, should the BBC bother with Le Mans? After all, Eurosport already does excellent coverage of the race. Let us remember however, that the BBC does not do advertisement breaks every ten minutes like Eurosport and with their experience with Comic and Sport Relief it would be a simple case of moving the feed between the four BBC Channels. The association of a series that attracts relatively low viewing figures with a major corporation would only be good; the WEC gains greater attention and the BBC dominates coverage of the fastest growing motor-racing series in the world.
As mentioned earlier, the hybrid technology imbued in the WEC means the cars produce very few emissions, but what about a series that produces zero emissions, goes to ten different cities and does all its business on one day? Formula E was introduced to the racing world in 2014 as the lights went out in Beijing for the first race of the season. The concept? A zero emissions racing series than sets up tracks in the middle of one of the biggest cities on the planet and does Practice, Qualifying and the Race all in one day? A big score for the television schedule and races of only an hour demonstrates the cutting edge technology being developed.
Formula E is a series dripping in potential and would set a good image for a BBC looking to develop and invest in something new. The only issue? ITV currently owns the rights to show Formula E on its ITV4 Channel. A swap in which ITV gets Formula One and the BBC gets Formula E might appear to be a rip-off, a poor deal but not when you consider how Formula One is politically and globally in a mess. Viewing figures are plummeting and every year the series travels to new circuits that are dull and lifeless while abandoning its heritage and history removing tracks like Hockenheim and the Nurburgring while also threatening Monza, a track that has held sixty-four of the past sixty-five Italian Grand Prix. Formula E, aside from controversy regarding Battersea Park, is growing in popularity, attracting great drivers from around the world while taking them to exciting countries who not only made a mark on the history of motorsport but also want to be part of it as well.
Despite watching Formula One flounder, the BBC may gain from this with both Formula E and WEC waiting in the wings. Is it time for a new start for the BBC? A new go, go, go?