Grade waves F1's chequered flag in favour of football


Last updated at 23:52 20 March 2008

Michael Grade was described as crazy yesterday for ditching ITV's highly acclaimed Formula One coverage in favour of king football.

The ITV chairman made the

commercial call to wave the

chequered flag two years early on

a £43million-a-year grand prix

contract so that the cash-strapped

network had the

finances to secure the showcase

Champions League package of

first pick on Wednesday nights.

Scroll down to read more:

Kimi Raikkonen

Channel hopping: the BBC will cover F1 where world champion Raikkonen will be challenged by Lewis, while ITV will focus on the likes of Liverpool in the Champions League

The punt paid off last night

when ITV retained Champions

League football at a cost of £70m a

year for 17 games, giving them an

attractive live football portfolio, as

well as England and FA Cup rights.

Grade had gambled on pulling

out of Formula One — through a

'breakclause' in the contract —

before the last Champions League

tender had been decided so he

could show UEFA accountants he

had enough cash to win the fight

for the best of European football.

The BBC claimed they had never

put in a bid for live Champions

League football, insisting they were

interested only in highlights.

Formula One ringmaster Bernie

Ecclestone wasted no time in

agreeing a new £250m, five-year

deal from 2009 with the Beeb.


are delighted the sport is returning

after a 12-year absence and see it as

solid compensation for losing out

on the Champions League.

In contrast, ITV's motor racing

operation, who heard about their

shock loss around midnight on

Wednesday, were devastated at

such a reverse only three days after

being praised by the ITV high

command for their Australian

Grand Prix coverage and the

promise of Lewis Hamilton

challenging world champion Kimi

Raikkonen for the title.

Neil Duncanson, whose North

One Television production team

have won a BAFTA award for their

grand prix work last year, said: "I've

been left with a devastated team.

I've experienced a lot of weird and

wonderful things during my 25

years in TV but this is the craziest

of the lot. We've spent over a

decade building up the coverage

and trying to make Michael

Schumacher popular.

"Now the

sport is blessed with a major

British superstar in Lewis Hamilton,

who will be challenging for the world championship for years to

come — and ITV pull the plug with

ratings on the up. It just doesn't

make sense. To cap it all, ITV boss

Simon Shaps sent an email

congratulating us on our work in

Melbourne the day before."

Grade said: "I'm thrilled ITV is

now the definitive home for all

premium free-to-air football in this

country. This is good news for

ITV's shareholders, advertisers and


Last week ITV agreed a £3m deal

for the online rights to the 2008

Formula One season. The depth of

feeling within the production team

has led to ITV head of sport Mark

Sharman flying to Kuala Lumpur to

explain the ramifications ahead of

Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix.

An ITV statement read: "This was

a straightforward commercial

decision and we are pleased

Formula One 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."

Dominic Coles, BBC's director of

sports rights, said: "The biggest

motor sport 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."

Ecclestone said: "The BBC has

some innovative ideas to consolidate

and expand our UK fan base."

The Beeb are planning a close

relationship between their grand

prix coverage and Top Gear — an

idea reinforced by the ratings for

Top Gear's recent programme

featuring the popular Hamilton.


The arrival of Lewis Hamilton a

year ago to challenge for the

drivers' world championship

was a boost to ITV's viewing


The final grand prix in Brazil in

October, which Hamilton

needed to win to take the title,

peaked at an audience of

10.6 million — the most watched

race since 2000.

Last season's grands prix were

watched by an average of

3.4 million viewers per race,

a 41 per cent increase on 2006

and the best figure since 2001.

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