F1 back on free TV in Middle East in time for Bahrain

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Formula 1 will be back on free-to-air television in the Middle East in time for next weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix.

Fans had been left in the lurch by previous TV rights holders BeIN Sports' decision not to renew its contract to broadcast F1 in 2019, citing concerns about widespread piracy in the region by the Saudi Arabia-based BeoutQ network.

While the sport's promoters have pledged to crack down on illegal streaming around the world, it didn't stop Qatar-based pay-TV broadcaster BeIN from opting not to continue paying for the legal rights once its existing five-year deal expired at the end of 2018.

But Formula 1 has now concluded a new five-year deal with MBC Group, which is the largest media company in the Middle East and North Africa.

As a result, all 21 Grand Prix races in 2019 will be carried live on non-subscription channels. MBC Group will have a "considerable on-site presence" at each circuit, including guest commentators.

"We are delighted to have concluded this agreement," said Ian Holmes, Director of Media Rights for Formula 1.

"[We] very much look forward to working with MBC Group and exploring the many different opportunities, where they are in a unique position to help grow F1 throughout the region."

Formula 1 has also confirmed that an existing deal with Eleven Sports to show races in Poland has been extended through to 2022.

There's expected to be a big upsurge in interest in F1 in the country after Robert Kubica returned to the starting grid for the first time in over eight years.

Kubica was sidelined after a rally crash in 2011, but finally made his long awaited comeback last weekend in Australia with the Williams F1 team alongside rookie driver George Russell.

George Russell (GBR) Williams Racing with Johnny Herbert (GBR) Sky Sports F1 Presenter and Natalie Pinkham (GBR) Sky Sports Presenter.

Formula 1 has been criticised in recent weeks for its increasing move away from free-to-air stations on to subscription channels, such as the dedicated Sky Sports F1 satellite channel in the UK.

"I remember growing up and turning on BBC and watching it all free. It was awesome," commented reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton earlier this month.

"I don't currently understand the pay TV situation. It's not my job to come up with the answers for that," he added.

"But I do understand, because it's bloody expensive nowadays, with everything you have in your home, all your insurance, all the things that you do end up paying.

"And on top of that you got to pay for TV, and a TV license. It's just ridiculous," he fumed, lamenting the decline in global TV viewing figures in recent seasons.

"I'm not sure why people are switching off. I don't have the answer to that," he admitted. "I didn't know those numbers. It sounds terrible from a business point of view."

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