Chinese Grand Prix continues F1’s upward trajectory

The Chinese Grand Prix continued Formula 1’s positive start to 2018, overnight UK viewing figures show.

It was a clean sweep on race day, with both Sky and Channel 4 recording year-on-year increases, across both the average audience and peak audience metrics.

Live coverage of the race, which Sky aired across its F1 and Main Event outlets, averaged 494k (12.1%) from 06:00 to 09:30, a slight increase on last year’s audience of 484k (13.2%). It is Sky’s highest audience figure for China since 2015, when the race averaged 589k (15.2%).

The slight drop in share for Sky’s coverage of the race maybe a result of the BBC’s coverage of the Commonwealth Games, resulting in a higher number of viewers watching television at breakfast time.

Sky’s coverage on the F1 channel averaged 335k (8.3%), with Main Event adding a further 159k (3.8%). I should note that last year’s coverage aired exclusively on the F1 channel, but the impact of a simulcast in the breakfast slot is small regardless.

Daniel Ricciardo’s victory peaked with a healthy 847k (13.4%) at 08:45, a 4.1 percent increase on last year’s peak audience of 813k. At the time of the peak, 541k (8.5%) were watching via the F1 channel, with 305k (4.8%) watching via Main Event, a split of 64:36.

Later in the day, Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 1.88m (17.6%), a massive 23.8 percent up on last year’s average of 1.52m (18.5%). The audience share is lower as total television audience during Formula 1’s time slot was up by 2.4 million viewers year-on-year.

There are various reasons why the total audience can fluctuate massively year-on-year: the weather, Bank Holiday weekends, football matches, other sporting competition not just on free-to-air but elsewhere, and so on. There is an argument as a result to say that their audience should have been even higher than what it actually was.

However, Channel 4’s audience is the highest for China in the three years that they have been covering Formula 1, so it is a very solid number. A peak audience of 2.48m (20.6%) watched Ricciardo’s victory on Channel 4, also a substantial increase on last year’s peak audience of 2.05m (22.3%).

The combined average audience of 2.37 million viewers is an increase of 18.6 percent on last year’s average of 2.00 million viewers. Compared with 2016, the average audience is up by 12.1 percent, making it the highest rated Chinese Grand Prix since 2015, when the race averaged 3.56 million viewers. Similarly, the combined peak audience of 3.32 million viewers is the highest since 2015, up 15.9 percent year-on-year.

Qualifying and Analysis
For the third race in a row, viewing figures for qualifying dropped compared to 2017.

Live coverage of qualifying aired across Sky Sports F1 and Main Event to an audience of 188k (5.1%) from 06:00 to 08:45. 140k (3.9%) watched via the F1 channel, with the remaining 48k (1.2%) watching via Main Event. This was the earliest time slot for qualifying in China since 2014. Back then, Sky’s exclusive coverage of qualifying averaged 236k (7.1%).

Channel 4’s highlights programme aired from 13:00 to 14:30, with 840k (11.0%) tuning in, a decrease on last year’s audience of 861k (13.9%). The combined average audience of 1.03 million viewers is likely to be the lowest for a Saturday qualifying session since the mid 2000’s.

The audience trends so far in 2018 are very interesting. The great news for Formula 1 is that all three races have increased their audience year-on-year, with Bahrain and China recording three-year highs. Given the events of Baku last year, I think we should expect a small year-on-year decrease for Azerbaijan, but nothing dramatic.

You would expect qualifying to follow the trend, except the numbers for qualifying show that viewing figures are dropping for the third consecutive season, even in the face of increases for the race programming. The format of qualifying has been the same for 2006, and you do wonder if the time for change is coming, as mooted in some quarters.

As always, the UK is just a very small snippet of the overall F1 picture, but it would be fascinating to see if the same viewing trends are happening worldwide.

The 2017 Chinese Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

A quick-fire guide to your motor racing streaming services for 2018

Over the years, this site has tended to cover television coverage more than other forms of media, with weekly television schedules whenever there is a Formula 1 race on. The site also has a dedicated page covering all the key UK television and radio contracts.

But, alongside your traditional methods, many championships allow you to watch their action online. Here, we look at what each championship offers directly to the consumer, bypassing the broadcasters, or not as the case may be. This article is aimed at UK readers, but the information may be useful for overseas readers as well.

Note – This is an experimentation post and may not cover every single series out there. Please leave a comment if you find this useful and would like to see this repeated in future with updated information.

Dorna Sports (review)
The commercial rights holder for MotoGP and World Superbikes, Dorna Sports have over-the-top platforms for both. Every session, including support races, airs live on the over-the-top platform with a dedicated on-site team. Full-length replays are available if you missed the action first time round, with the fan able to view the action from a variety of on-board camera angles. Access to the respective platforms also unlock MotoGP’s and World Superbikes’ rich archive.

Available via desktop, Android and Apple devices, the MotoGP package is priced at £174.36 for the complete season, or £44.45 in four instalments. The World Superbikes offering is considerably cheaper than MotoGP at £60.98 for the season, or £13.00 per month. Even considering the smaller calendar, on a per-race weekend basis, the MotoGP price works out at £9.18, whilst the Superbikes offering is just £4.69, a sign of their respective popularity.

Formula E
Despite being one of the newer series in this list, surprisingly the electric Formula E championship does not have an over-the-top platform. Fans wanting to watch the action can find some live coverage on Formula E’s YouTube channel, but the availability depends on territory. UK fans can watch live practice on their YouTube channel, but no further than that.

The geo-blocking restrictions are lifted after the session for practice and qualifying, whilst full races are made available several weeks after the race, although one might argue that they have lost their value by that point in time. The lack of an over-the-top platform currently may come and bite them back in a few years’ time, especially considering the recent developments from Formula 1.

Formula One Management
Announced in February, Formula 1 has confirmed that their streaming service will launch ready for the Spanish Grand Prix in May. At launch, F1 TV Pro will be available via desktop and will only contain Formula 1 coverage; with other devices, and the appearance of the feeder series’ coming later in the year.

However, UK fans will not have access to the premium version due to the television agreements already in place. Barring some form of new arrangement between Formula One Management and Sky, do not expect UK fans to be able to access F1 TV Pro until 2025. F1 TV Access though, is another question…

GT Sport Organisation
GT Sport created and is responsible for the Euroformula Open and the International GT Open, both of which air live in the UK on BT Sport.

As with other championships on a similar footing, GT Sport live streams the action on their two YouTube channels, covering qualifying and the race: EuroFormulaOpen and GTOPENseries. English commentary comes from Ben Evans, who fans in the UK may recognise from BT Sport’s IndyCar coverage.

Unlike Supercars below, IndyCar does not currently offer an over-the-top product for overseas fans of the championship. Race Control only extends as far as live timing, but no visual imagery is involved. However, its social media offering is comprehensive, with live streaming of its feeder Indy Lights series, as well as live action from practice via their various outlets.

For fans without access to BT Sport, the full US race programme from either ABC, ESPN or NBC is uploaded to IndyCar’s YouTube channel around four days after the event. With IndyCar’s domestic rights in the US changing for 2019 in NBC’s favour, the streaming picture could change as well.

SRO Motorsports Group
Not to be confused with GT Sport’s portfolio of championships, SRO Motorsports Group is the commercial rights holder for several of the leading GT championships worldwide. If you are into GT racing, the GTWorld YouTube channel, operated by SRO, is the place to be.

It is on YouTube where SRO live stream the likes of the Blancpain GT Series and the British GT, for free. In addition, the Blancpain website plays host to live streaming of the GT Series.

Not in Australia? No problem. The Virgin Australia Supercars streaming service SuperView gives fans outside of Australia the ability to live stream, rewind and replay every Supercars qualifying and race session in 2018. The restriction that previously applied to the Australian Grand Prix weekend was lifted for 2018, meaning that all events are now available on the service.

Priced at £32.80 based on the current conversion rate for the complete season, SuperView is a steal if you are looking to watch some motor racing action at your leisure throughout 2018. With 16 races across the year, the series costs UK fans just £2.05 per race weekend.

World Rally Championship (review)
From 2018, rally fans can view every World Rally Championship stage live. For £7.79 a month, or £77.98 for a complete year, fans can watch every stage either live or on-demand across a variety of devices.

However, you can only do that up and until the next rally comes along: there is no way to view the ‘All Live’ content once it disappears from the schedule a few days after the event finishes. Whilst the live element is great, WRC’s over-the-top product is still rough around the edges which is worth bearing in mind if you are unlikely to watch the action in a timely fashion. Nevertheless, WRC’s pricing structure remain extremely good value for money.

Are there any other major championships that have streaming capability that I have not mentioned? Have your say in the comments below.

Scheduling: The 2018 Chinese Grand Prix / Rome E-Prix

The Chinese Grand Prix plays host to round three of the 2018 Formula One season from the Shanghai International Circuit.

Sky Sports F1’s coverage sees the return of Anthony Davidson for the first time this season. In what might be a first for their coverage, every on-track session is simulcast live on Sky Sports Main Event.

Over on Channel 4, Louise Goodman is the super substitute this weekend for Lee McKenzie. McKenzie returns to Channel 4’s output in Azerbaijan. Aside from the race starting ten minutes later, Saturday’s on-track action takes place one hour earlier than last year.

Formula E heads to Rome for the first time, with the action airing live on 5Spike and Eurosport. In Channel 5’s defence, the race clashes with live coverage of the Premiership Rugby, hence why Formula E finds itself on Channel 5’s sister station again.

Elsewhere, the Euroformula and International GT series’ return to BT Sport for the start of the 2018 season.

Channel 4 F1
14/04 – 13:00 to 14:30 – Qualifying Highlights
15/04 – 14:15 to 16:30 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions (also Sky Sports Main Event)
13/04 – 02:45 to 04:50 – Practice 1
13/04 – 06:45 to 08:50 – Practice 2
14/04 – 03:45 to 05:15 – Practice 3
14/04 – 06:00 to 08:45 – Qualifying
=> 06:00 – Pre-Show
=> 06:55 – Qualifying
15/04 – 05:30 to 10:10 – Race
=> 05:30 – Pit Lane Live
=> 06:30 – On the Grid
=> 07:05 – Race
=> 09:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
11/04 – 20:30 to 21:00 – The F1 Report: Preview (also Sky Sports Mix)
12/04 – 08:00 to 09:00 – Driver Press Conference
12/04 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
14/04 – 08:45 to 09:20 – The F1 Show (also Sky Sports Main Event)
18/04 – 20:30 to 21:00 – The F1 Report: Preview

BBC Radio F1
12/04 – 21:30 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
13/04 – 02:55 to 04:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
13/04 – 06:55 to 08:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
14/04 – 03:55 to 05:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
14/04 – 06:55 to 08:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
15/04 – 06:30 to 09:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Formula E – Rome (online via YouTube)
14/04 – 06:55 to 07:55 – Practice 1
14/04 – 09:25 to 10:10 – Practice 2

Formula E – Rome
14/04 – 10:45 to 12:10 – Qualifying (5Spike)
14/04 – 14:30 to 16:15 – Race (5Spike)
14/04 – 13:45 to 16:15 (Eurosport)
=> 13:45 – Qualifying
=> 14:45 – Race
15/04 – 11:50 to 12:50 – Highlights (Channel 5)

British Superbikes – Brands Hatch
14/04 – 15:30 to 18:00 – Qualifying (Eurosport 2)
15/04 – 13:00 to 18:00 – Races (Eurosport 2)
18/04 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

Euroformula – Estoril
14/04 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Race 1 (BT Sport X2)
15/04 – 12:00 to 13:00 – Race 2 (BT Sport 1)

European Le Mans Series – Le Castellet (
15/04 – Race
=> 10:45 to 13:00
=> 15:00 to 16:00
=> 18:00 to 19:30

IndyCar Series – Long Beach (BT Sport/ESPN)
15/04 – 21:00 to 00:00 – Race

International GT Open – Estoril (BT Sport/ESPN)
14/04 – 15:00 to 16:45 – Race 1 (BT Sport/ESPN)
15/04 – 13:00 to 14:30 – Race 2 (BT Sport 1)

World Superbikes – Aragon
14/04 – 09:00 to 14:00 – Qualifying and Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
15/04 – 10:00 to 13:00 – Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
17/04 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

The above will be updated if anything changes.

Update on April 13th – As several people have pointed out, it is FOM’s feeder series commentator Alex Jacques in the 5 Live commentary box today. Jacques will remain there for tomorrow, with Jack Nicholls returning for the F1 race on Sunday.

Vettel’s victory peaks with highest Bahrain number since 2015

Sebastian Vettel’s victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix peaked with nearly 4.5 million viewers, the highest peak figure for the Bahrain round of the championship in three years, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage the weekend’s action aired across Channel 4 and Sky Sports. Channel 4’s broadcast, encompassing the build-up and the race itself from 15:00 to 18:10, averaged 2.37m (18.9%), a slight increase on last year’s figure of 2.23m (15.2%). For the purposes of the combined average below, the Channel 4 figure used will be the figure above, the same methodology as last year.

Channel 4’s average audience has changed very little over the past three years for Bahrain. Using the 15:00 to 18:30 time slot as the metric, we can see that the 210-minute slot averaged 2.30m (16.2%) in 2016, compared with 2.21m (15.0%) in 2017, and now 2.25m (16.0%) in 2018, a remarkably stable trajectory with very little to separate the three years.

Meanwhile, Sky Sports F1’s coverage from 15:00 to 18:30 averaged 524k (3.7%), a decrease on last year’s audience figure of 597k (4.1%). The average audience is Sky’s lowest for Bahrain since they started covering the sport in 2012.

The combined average audience of 2.89 million viewers is marginally up on both 2016 and 2017, by 50,000 viewers and 70,000 viewers respectively. The margins here are incredibly tight, although the gap may widen once you consider other methods of viewing, such as All 4, Sky Go and Now TV.

It is important to note that the Premier League opposition for the F1 was tougher last year (Chelsea versus Manchester United) compared with this year (Chelsea versus West Ham United), which will have affected audience figures.

An audience of 3.79m (28.2%) watched lights out at 16:15, slightly lower than 2016 and 2017, settling around the 3.9 million mark, once the Premier League game started from 16:30 onwards. As Chelsea gained the lead in the football, viewing figures jumped for the Grand Prix on both channels to a combined figure of 4.23m (28.4%) at 17:10.

The audience jump coincided with the pit lane incident involving Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, which, combined with the on-track battle between Vettel and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, helped figures remain above four million until the chequered flag.

A peak audience of 4.45m (27.2%) watched Sebastian Vettel win the Grand Prix at 17:40. At the time of the peak, 3.62m (22.1%) were watching Channel 4’s output, with a further 830k (5.1%) watching Sky’s coverage, a split of 81:19 in Channel 4’s favour.

Sky’s programme peaked earlier in the race at 16:25 with 884k (6.4%), this being the last five-minute segment before the second Premier League game of the day began on Sky Sports Main Event and their dedicated Premier League channel. Compared with 2017, Channel 4’s peak audience increased by 6.1 percent, whilst Sky’s peak dropped by 8.0 percent.

The combined peak audience of 4.45 million viewers is an increase of 111,000 viewers on last year’s peak figure of 4.34m (25.9%), and an increase of nearly half a million viewers on the 2016 peak of 4.01m (30.2%). However, audience figures remain a far cry from 2015 and before when F1 aired in some form on the BBC: 2015’s race peaked with 6.26m (36.3%).

Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying did not fare as well as the race, with viewing figures decreasing compared with 2016 and 2017. Live coverage of qualifying on Channel 4 from 15:00 to 17:45 averaged 1.08m (9.8%), down on last year’s average of 1.23m (12.7%).

Unusually, Channel 4 was third in its slot during qualifying, behind both BBC and ITV. At the same time, BBC were screening highlights of the Commonwealth Games along with Final Score, whilst ITV aired repeats of Tipping Point and The Chase.

Sky’s programming, simulcast across F1 and Mix, suffered the same fate as Channel 4, with an average of 273k (2.5%) comparing unfavourably with last year’s number of 349k (3.5%). Across the two channels, 246k (2.2%) watched via the F1 channel, and a further 27k (0.2%) watched via Mix.

The combined average of 1.36 million viewers is down 14 percent on last year’s average audience of 1.58 million viewers, the lowest average for Bahrain since 2007. The peak audience of 2.30m (18.5%) came at 17:05, a decrease of 9 percent compared with last year’s peak of 2.54m (22.6%)

Two races into the 2018 season, and overall, minus a few dips for qualifying, it is fair to say that Formula 1’s viewing figures year-on-year so far, are steady. It may be too early to state this as fact, but certainly the indications are that the Halo cockpit protection system has not had any significant bearing on the UK audience figures.

I am happy to hold my hands up and say ‘I was wrong’ where this was concerned given some of the predictions I made at the back-end of last year. Whilst the Halo is not the prettiest thing ever, I have become used to it quicker than I imagined, and it appears I am not alone in that regard.

The 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

60 years of British Touring Cars: the broadcasting story

This year sees the British Touring Car Championship celebrate sixty years of high-octane, bumper to bumper racing. Currently, the championship, and its support package, enjoys up to eight hours for every race day live and free on ITV4. But, coverage in yesteryear was not quite as extensive as that…

For its first thirty years, under the banner of British Saloon Car Championship, the series had sporadic coverage on the BBC’s radio stations, but there was no formal arrangement, largely in part because deals back then were between broadcasters and circuits, making it impossible for a complete series to air on television.

The arrangement ended in 1987, allowing BBC television to cover every race in highlights form starting in 1988, with Steve Rider and Murray Walker fronting the coverage. BHP, otherwise known as Barrie Hinchcliffe Productions, were responsible for producing the BBC’s output.

Writing in his autobiography My Chequered Career, Rider goes into detail about the hurdles faced by the BHP. These include (but not limited to) funding, the placing of sponsors on the on-board camera angles, and a feature in the Sunday Times accusing the BBC of a “corrupt commissioning system.” Suffice to say that there were many different reasons why the BHP production deal may have fallen through.

Thankfully, the BHP production deal continued, and the series was a mainstay on Grandstand in the mid-1990s on BBC Two, becoming the starting point for many of today’s stars getting involved in touring cars. Television audiences increased, as did attendance figures at the circuit.

ITV pundit Paul O’Neill was one person introduced to touring cars thanks to Grandstand. “The first race I remember seeing was James Thompson winning in 1995 on Grandstand, at Thruxton in an old Cavalier,” explained O’Neil. “The thing that stuck out for me was the action that it has now, it’s part of its DNA, the other thing I remember was just how well it was broadcast especially by Steve Rider back then, but also with the music and everything they used just made it stand out massively.”

For the veteran racers that have watched the championship grow over the decades, things were slightly different back then, outside and inside the car from a broadcasting perspective. Triple BTCC champion Matt Neal fits in that category, having raced touring cars since the late 1980s. “I remember there being a VHS tape in the bottom of the foot well in the passenger seat!” recited Neal. Walker would voice over the races, which aired on a week delay in a highlights package.

“The production guys used to get the tapes, cut them all together, Murray watched it once, and voiced it in the week. Some of the mistakes off Murray were deliberate, he was a genius at commentary. It made for very exciting viewing, because they could pick and choose the action. We did have some boring races back then, but BHP were very good at finding gems over the weekend, piecing it all together for Murray to commentate on,” Neal continued.

“I used to go through the whole thing meticulously, making a shot list with brief notes on what was coming up next, then go into the sound booth and commentate on the tape pictures that were pumped into a monitor in front of me.

“I knew what was coming, of course, because I had practically learnt the vision by heart and also had my notes to remind me but, because I was making the words up as I went along instead of reading from a carefully crafted script, the effect was that the race was live and continuous rather than recorded and edited.

“It was long-winded and labour-intensive, but it worked well.” – Murray Walker, Unless I’m Very Much Mistaken (pages 174 and 175)

Rider believed the notion of delayed highlights was on “borrowed time”, and that the package produced by BHP was a “misrepresentation of the narrative and pace of the actual race,” even if it was “terrific television.”

With a Formula 1 shaped hole in the BBC’s schedules though for 1997, the corporation opted to increase their commitment to touring cars, with races airing live for the first time. Charlie Cox joined Walker in the commentary box, before Walker himself stepped aside at the end of 1997, John Watson filling the void.

Neal’s first race win in 1999 at Donington Park was one of the races that aired live, thanks to its Bank Holiday slot. It was a remarkable feat for Neal, the first win for an Independent driver in the modern era.

“Back then, you couldn’t compete on engines, tyres, and we ran with year old cars,” Neal recalled. “The first race of 1999, we ran with the same tyres as the manufactures, and won. That race was actually live! It’s one of the few times, I’ve heard the roar of the crowd from inside the car. It was surreal, almost like it wasn’t happening.”

“The next day I woke up, went into the office and my PR guy was on the phone to Australia doing interviews, and I thought ‘so what?’ It doesn’t change me as a person, so you’ve just got to roll with it, and try to do it again, which I’ve been doing ever since. It was a crazy time.”

After Formula 1 moved to ITV, BTCC was one of the remaining four-wheel motor sport left on the BBC, and stayed with the BBC until the end of 2001. Speaking to Autosport at the time, BTCC’s boss Richard West said that the BBC “admitted that certain things had not been to the benefit of the series, such as the inability to provide regular slots and, by their own admittance could not meet the exacting standards that we had put to them.” In other words, the championship could not grow further with the Beeb, partially due to no other motor racing complimenting its coverage.

Led by West, BTCC headed in a different direction, moving towards a deal with ITV and Motors TV. Briefly, a stint on the ill-fated ITV Sport Channel also ensued. Neal believes the move did damage to the health of the series. “The Head of ITV at the time wanted to move everything onto ITV Sport, and we were one of the first things to get drafted across. The viewing figures fell through the floor, people just didn’t know where to find it,” Neal said.

Following a rut on and off the circuit for touring cars domestically in the early to mid 2000s, the championship found its place on ITV, where it has remained ever since. Ben Edwards led the commentary line-up from 2002 to 2011, with Tim Harvey alongside him, before David Addison controlled the reigns from 2013 onwards. As in the BBC days, Steve Rider continues to host ITV4’s race day output.

In terms of television coverage, ITV4 has for the past decade provided extensive coverage of the championship, with a peak audience of up to half a million viewers watching each round. Although BTCC does not attract the audience it once did during the Super Touring era on the BBC, current ITV reporter Louise Goodman, who has been involved with covering the series since 2009, believes the championship is in a healthy position.

“The more exposure the championship can get the better, but it’s a very different media age to what it was like in the Super Touring era. You have to think about the amount of sports out there vying to get coverage. The level of coverage on terrestrial channels has become quite limited in many ways, so the fact that BTCC has six, seven, sometimes eight hours of free-to-air coverage on ITV4, is still a fantastic amount of exposure,” Goodman told this site.

“If we only offered half an hour of programming per weekend, the guys in the support races wouldn’t get any exposure,” Goodman added. “Those are the guys in two or three years’ time that may be racing in the BTCC, so the exposure has enabled them to make that progress through the ladder from a sponsorship and marketing perspective. I think we’re in a healthy position, it’s a proper career option for young and upcoming drivers.”

“You’ve still got the Plato’s and Neal’s of this world, we hope they’ll never go away because they’re entertaining, its great viewing and they still have what it takes behind the wheel. You need the next young talent coming through the ranks and there’s been an increase in that in recent years.”

And this weekend at Brands Hatch, the championship heads into its next sixty years hoping for more of the same action that has helped its popularity over the course of the last six decades.