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Friday, 6 April, 2001, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
Ecclestone: F1 to remain on free TV
David Coulthard ahead of Michael Schumacher in Brazil
Viewers will still be able to watch F1 free of charge
Bernie Ecclestone, head of Formula One, has promised that F1 races will stay on free television as he works to avert a break-up of motor-racing.

Mr Ecclestone is said to be concerned over a move earlier this week by European car manufacturers to set up a rival championship.

His comments echo reassurances made by the German media group, Kirch TV, on Thursday.

Car makers, seeking to gain a greater say in how Formula One is run, are anxious about Kirch's intentions for broadcasting races.

Races will only be allocated into countries which will be in the best interests of the teams, manufacturers and sponsors

Bernie Ecclestone
Formula One
Leo Kirch's company recently assumed a 75% stake in Formula One in conjunction with EM.TV, which is also under Kirch's control.

Manufacturers fear that the media group, whose money-losing pay-TV outlet desperately needs a major sport to attract more subscribers, intends to put the popular races on a pay-TV system.

This could severely reduce the sport's audience and the car makers' revenue. The fortnightly Grand Prix races from around the globe attract an estimated television audience of 300 million or more.

Ecclestone pledge

But Mr Ecclestone, who said he will be head of Formula One for the next five years, pledged on Friday that he would keep the sport on free-to-air television.

Bernie Ecclestone
Bernie Ecclestone joins Kirch in trying to reassure European car makers
"I have been assured that my policy of securing worldwide extensive live free-over-the-air TV coverage remains unchanged," said Mr Ecclestone.

He added that "races will only be allocated into countries which will be in the best interests of the teams, manufacturers and sponsors."

According to the Financial Times newspaper, Mr Ecclestone is very concerned that a rival European championship would destroy the Formula One race series.

"It has taken me 30 years to build up Formula One into what it is today and it could take just six months to destroy it," he said.

Kirch's assurances

Kirch is also keen to send out the right signals to the European car makers.

"There are no plans to let Formula One slip into pay TV," said Kirch spokesman Hartmut Schultz on Thursday.

He said the group wanted to keep Formula One attractive to a mass audience and would keep it on free TV.

Kirch had little to say about the manufacturers' plans for a breakaway, except to remind them that they are bound to Formula One until 2007 by current agreements.

Leo Kirch
Leo Kirch says it is in his interests for F1 to stay on free TV
One of the manufacturers behind the move is Daimler-Chrysler, whose Mercedes engines power the McLaren cars.

The others are Fiat, Ford, BMW and Renault.

Fiat controls the defending champion team of Ferrari, Ford is involved with Jaguar, BMW provides engines to the Williams team and Renault's engines are used by Benetton.

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See also:

06 Apr 01 | Business
The new force in Formula 1
04 Apr 01 | Formula One
F1 chiefs vote for breakaway
04 Apr 01 | Formula One
A very careful bluff
27 Mar 01 | Business
Rival Formula 1 threat
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