Aug.19 (GMM/Inautonews.com) Bernie Ecclestone claims the BBC’s ongoing contract meant he could not keep formula one on free-to-air television in Britain.

The BBC has a lucrative deal to televise F1 through 2014 but, amid the need to cut costs, the public broadcaster has delegated half of next year’s live coverage to the pay channel Sky.

The move has enraged many British fans, particularly amid reports Channel 4 and ITV were open to negotiating to broadcast formula one live.

“They (BBC) got to grips with Sky themselves,” F1 chief executive Ecclestone told the Mirror.

“I spoke with ITV too, and came up with the same problem as Channel 4 had. We had a contract with the BBC which didn’t run out until 2014.”

Asked if the BBC “held all the cards” when it came to selecting a co-broadcaster, Ecclestone insisted: “Yes, absolutely.

“If they (Channel 4) had said they wanted to sign a contract today to start broadcasting for 45 million pounds a year, then we would have probably done it.

“But that’s the problem. We couldn’t deal with them, even if they had wanted to.”

Ecclestone denied that the loss of full free-to-air coverage for F1 in the crucial British market will affect the popularity of the sport.

“In the short-term, I think that collectively taking in the amount of broadcasting that’s going to be scheduled between the two of them next year, there will be more eyeballs watching than we have now.

“That’s good for us, good for the teams and good for the fans,” he said.