Formula 1 continued its ratings resurgence in the UK during the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, overnight viewing figures show.
As with last year’s coverage, live action aired on Sky Sports F1, with Channel 4 airing highlights later in the evening.
Channel 4’s highlights programme aired from 18:00 to 20:00 to an excellent average audience of 2.33m (15.6%). Astonishingly, it is the highest audience for an F1 highlights programme on free-to-air television since the BBC’s coverage of the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix, which averaged 2.77m (16.5%) across a shorter 90-minute time slot.
A peak audience of 3.00m (18.0%) watched the highlights show, comfortably the most watched commercial channel in the time slot, only behind BBC One. Again, this is the highest for an F1 highlights programme since Singapore 2015.
Earlier in the day, Sky’s race broadcast, which aired from 13:00 to 16:30, averaged 653k (8.4%), their highest average for Spain since 2015. It is Sky Sports F1’s highest average audience since last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
The Grand Prix peaked with 1.01m (13.8%) at 14:25, the first five-minute segment following the opening Safety Car period, Sky’s highest for Spain again since 2015. Had the race been more exciting, there is a good chance that the peak might have been around 1.2 million viewers.
As it turned out, the audience settled just under one million viewers for most of the race, which is a solid number considering that the Premier League final day fixtures kicked off half way through the race.
The combined average audience of 2.99 million viewers is the highest average audience of 2018 so far, and an increase of 12.6 percent year-on-year. It is the highest average since last year’s US Grand Prix, and the highest for a free-to-air highlights race since the 2016 German Grand Prix.
The peak audience of 4.01 million viewers is an increase of 6.1 percent on last year’s peak audience of 3.78 million viewers, although not quite the highest of 2018, that honour remains with Azerbaijan.
Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying on Sky Sports F1 from 13:00 to 15:35 averaged 322k (4.6%). Channel 4’s highlights programming averaged 1.33m (10.9%) from 17:00 to 18:30, both figures comfortably up year-on-year.
The combined average for qualifying of 1.65 million viewers is the highest for Spain since 2015, with the combined peak audience of 2.46 million viewers following in the same footsteps.
It has been many, many years since Formula 1 recorded consistent year-on-year increases over a sustained period. For the first time, in possibly five or six years, F1 has momentum, and viewers are starting to view the sport, as opposed to deserting it. Whether these are genuine new viewers, or lapsed viewers from yesteryear, we do not know apart from looking at anecdotal evidence.
The concern for Liberty Media however is that it was Channel 4 that saw a record audience on Sunday, and not Sky. Channel 4’s contract concludes at the end of this season, with Formula 1 moving exclusively to Sky, although the free-to-air element of Sky’s contract, and where that will turn up is unclear.
Why the sustained increase? We have been lucky so far in 2018 in that three of the five races have been excellent. Australia did not quite deliver, and nor did Spain, but not everything can be a thriller.
In the last two or three years, we have had great battles, but momentum disappeared in the intervening races. Three great races on the run may have resulting in Spain’s numbers bouncing higher than expected. There is also the increased promotion from Liberty Media across a variety of platforms: are their efforts reaping the rewards?
Next up is the Monaco Grand Prix, which begins a critical phase of the F1 season as the sport begins to battle with the football World Cup and other events for column inches. If Ferrari and Red Bull turn up in Monaco and Canada, the momentum should continue through the early Summer, even if it is at a reduced rate of knots.
The 2017 Spanish Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.