Bernie Ecclestone's move in switching Formula 1 to a pay channel for the UK this year with the Sky/BBC tie-up should be viewed as a positive, despite the overall audience figures for some races going down, according to McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh. He thinks initial fears from both fans and those involved in the sport that it would be damaging for grand prix racing have not materialized.
One year on from the announcement that left many fans outraged, Whitmarsh says that there have been a number of benefits that have materialized from Sky's arrival in F1.
"My inbox is less choked now with e-mails from Mr. Outraged," Whitmarsh said. "I take things like that seriously, because they are our fans and they felt betrayed by it.
"We all felt a little bit upset that it happened – although in fairness to Bernie, everyone blamed him, the sport, and me for it, but actually the decision, the choice, was the BBC's in the first place [to drop free-to-air coverage of the whole season]. So in fairness to Bernie, he did a masterful job to sidestep an issue, to create what we have got today."
The BBC and Sky have shared coverage of races this year, with half the races being broadcast exclusively live on Sky and the other half being shown on both channels.
Audience figures recently published show that the race audience in the UK is holding up, with some events like Australia, Malaysia and China having a greater combined audience across both channels, while others like Spain, Monaco, Canada and Britain are down compared to 2011 when races were all shown live on the BBC.
Whitmarsh is aware that there has been an impact on audience numbers this year – with not all households having access to Sky's system – but thinks that F1 must also wake up to the changing ways that people follow sport.
"I think Sky has put a tremendous amount of energy into the coverage," he said. "We used to be obsessed with butts on seats in front of television sets, but that is going to be as antiquated as considering the lending of library books as a measurement for literature. We can't think of butts on seats on the living room anymore, because there are mobile phones, tablets, PCs, internet, plus storage for viewing later.
"We are only at the start of that process, and I think that Sky has got a lot of energy and creativity for the future. We were all very worried about it, but pay-per-view, with all its different outlets, it is much more complex than the traditional approach."