The French Grand Prix continued Formula 1’s rough period in the United Kingdom, overnight viewing figures suggest.
The race itself started at 15:10, twenty minutes after England’s World Cup thrashing of Panama finished over on BBC One. The timings meant that Sky Sports’ build-up of the Grand Prix clashed with the England game, causing its average audience figure to be deflated. There are no year-on-year comparisons, with this being the first French round since 2008.
From 14:00 to 17:30, an audience of 547k (4.7%) watched Sky’s F1 output across their F1 channel and Sky Sports Main Event, this figure also accounting for Main Event’s simulcast starting later at 14:30. The F1 channel averaged 337k (2.9%), with Main Event bringing in a further 245k (2.1%).
Sky’s coverage from 14:00 to 14:50, the portion which directly clashed with the second half of England game, averaged 67k (0.4%), an unsurprisingly low figure considering 13.62m (82.0%) were watching the football at the same time.
Lewis Hamilton’s victory peaked with 1.08m (8.4%) as the race started at 15:15, Sky’s second highest peak of the season, only behind Canada. At the time of the peak, 606k (4.7%) were watching on the F1 channel, with 470k (3.7%) watching via Main Event.
For a European round, it is a solid peak for the pay-TV broadcaster, however the audience is not much higher than Spain or Monaco (1.01m and 1.02m respectively), showing that Sky did not benefit much from following on after the England game. I argued in the scheduling piece, and still do now, that Sky should have placed the race front and centre on Sky One to try and capitalise on some of the floating football audience.
Because of the later than usual start time, Channel 4’s highlights programme did not air until 22:15. An audience of 1.05m (10.6%) watched their cut of the race, peaking with 1.42m (11.4%) at 22:45. The audience is in-line with Channel 4’s usual audiences for their late-night highlights, but combined with Sky’s usual European audience is not a good recipe.
The combined average audience of 1.60 million viewers is around 40,000 viewers lower than the Canadian Grand Prix average from two weeks ago, making the audience a new low for Formula 1 in the modern era in the UK.
The peak audience of 2.49 million viewers is lower than Canada’s peak audience of 2.56 million viewers. It is the lowest peak for a Formula 1 race in the UK since the 2006 Italian Grand Prix, which peaked with 2.46 million viewers.
Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying averaged 264k (3.2%) on Sky Sports F1 from 14:00 to 16:35, peaking with 570k (6.7%) at 16:00. Channel 4’s highlights programme followed at 18:30, averaging 918k (6.1%) across a 95-minute slot. Their show peaked with 1.18m (7.0%) at 19:45.
The combined audience for qualifying was 1.18 million viewers, with the peak audience coming in at 1.75 million viewers. Based on the qualifying audience for Channel 4, I do not think their race show would have fared much better in an earlier time slot. It may have moved the combined race average closer to two million viewers, but no further, due to the impact that the World Cup was having on all other channels.
You might argue in the case of the French round that F1 may have had more pub viewing than usual due to the football, but to the contrary I suspect that any pubs showing England would have stuck with the second football game on BBC One instead of turning over to the F1.
Unfortunately for Formula 1, things do not get much better. The second half of next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix will clash with Spain versus Russia, whilst any delay to qualifying will result in a clash between France and Argentina. Liberty Media’s decision to move races an hour later will have a significant impact on audience numbers worldwide as a result.