Unprecedented and mostly unjustified anger has gripped the F1 world in Britain since the surprise announcement of a joint BBC/Sky Sports broadcasting deal to run for seven years and, as the F1 paddock's well-deserved summer break gets into full swing, you can be sure that many more weeks of hysteria and mellowdrama will dominated Twitter and discussion forums until the focus returns to racing in Spa at the end of the month.
Despite what you read elsewhere however, this new deal will not see F1 disappear from free-to-air television, nor will it see F1 viewing figures plummet. Be it mere scaremongering, uneducated speculation, misinformed conjecture or the result of fans' rage, few have taken a backward step and analysed the consequences of the new deal in a pragmatic fashion.
The first thing to understand is that the vast majority of F1's viewership worldwide is made up of casual fans. Those involved in the F1 media, both online and in print, seem to be analysing the new deal from their own perspectives: that of fans who are constantly consumed by F1 and need to watch every session live, no matter what. But the number of these die-hard F1 fans are measured as a tiny percentage of the hundreds of millions that watch F1 every year.
For example, Autosport magazine in the UK sells, on average, less than 30,000 copies every week, while its sister F1 Racing magazine sells just over 50,000 copies per month. Autosport.com meanwhile, the number-one stop for English-speaking fans worldwide, only garners 1.3 million users per month.
A much-publicised petition on the British government's website has attracted a paltry 11,000 signatures at the time of writing, again highlighting the very limited impact the BBC/Sky deal will have on the wider population. For a sport as British-dominated as F1 – from teams and drivers to the media – its relative lack of hardcore support is quite astonishing.
A quick examination of the viewing figures for Grands Prix on the BBC this year further reinforces that point. According to BARB, the race that has attracted the most viewers this year was the Canadian Grand Prix, the only race to be shown in a primetime slot in the evening. While the first four races of the year – three of which were aired in the morning – didn't even feature in the weekly top 30 BBC1 programmes, Canada's qualifying session featured at number 26, again airing in a primetime slot.
With ten races due to be aired live on the BBC and extended highlights or a full race re-run (depending on who you listen to) to be shown in a primetime slot for the races not shown live, Formula One's viewership has great potential to grow in the UK, especially if the racing remains as close and action-packed as it has been this year. Highlights currently air on BBC3, which has an audience share of just 1.6% compared to BBC1's 20.7%.
The fact that some Grand Prix broadcasts have a large audience share is taken entirely out of context when you see what programmes F1 is competing against (the German Grand Prix was up against the likes of Dinner Date, The Simpsons, Next Door Nightmares and a rerun of Eastenders). For example the Chinese Grand Prix had an audience share of 50%, which is quite a low figure when you consider the race started at 8am and Britain had Button and Hamilton starting 2nd and 3rd on the grid, with Hamilton ultimately going on to win. F1 is simply not as popular as some people think.
Based on this evidence, it's no wonder that F1 teams are now supporting the deal. With casual viewers making up so much of Britain's F1 viewership, attracting more of them will be hugely beneficial to teams in attracting sponsors. Having a primetime TV slot for 50% of the races could arguably be more valuable than the other 50% that will be shown live in the early afternoon.
Complaints from F1 fans have also been greatly over-exaggerating. It's clear to see now that the joint BBC/Sky deal was the only one in town from F1's perspective. The deal actually sees F1 gain an extra £5m in revenue, without which the sport would likely have taken a substantial hit by going to Channel 4 or Channel 5 (both of whom would likely have had to air F1 with intra-race ad breaks, something which Sky has committed to avoid).
Keeping F1 on BBC therefore keeps the vast majority of F1 fans happy, keeps the teams happy and those fans that are lucky enough to be able to afford a Sky Sports subscription will get superb coverage of F1, both during and outside Grand Prix weekends. For the fans that can't afford Sky Sports, they still get 50% of the races live on BBC and get comprehensive coverage of the other 50%. That's a huge deal better than the treatment soccer fans in the UK get, where a highlights programme is aired in the late evening with Sky Sports holding exclusive rights to live games.
It's absurd to think that some fans might stop watching F1 altogether because they can't watch all the races live for free. Firstly there's BBC Radio 5 Live that will continue to have live commentary on all races and, secondly, there's a remarkable resource called the Internet that will continue to house illegal streams.
When F1 switched from RTÉ to Setanta Sports in Ireland at the beginning of 2005, I had to live with Formula1.com's live timing service to get my F1 fix, before watching a taping of the ITV broadcast the following day. As far as I'm concerned, British F1 fans have it pretty easy next year. Quit complaining.