Lewis Hamilton’s victory at the Russian Grand Prix struggled compared to the first two-thirds of the 2018 season so far, overnight viewing figures suggest.
Comparisons with previous years should be taken at face value and in the context of the slot the race was in. In 2014 and 2015, the race occurred in October, before moving to an April slot for the 2016 running. Now, the Grand Prix moves back to late-September.
In addition, last year’s race aired live on Channel 4, whereas this year the broadcaster aired highlights, as they did in 2016.
Sky Sports F1’s live coverage of the Grand Prix averaged 490k (6.0%) from 11:00 to 14:30, their highest average for Russia since 2015. An average of 490,000 viewers in isolation looks low compared to other races this season, but is a reasonable number for Russia.
Nevertheless, it is Sky’s third lowest average of 2018, only ahead of Australia and Austria. In 2016, Sky’s coverage from Sochi averaged 470k (4.9%), with last year’s shared coverage bringing in 447k (4.5%).
For whatever reason, the Sochi race has never traditionally brought the punters in, whether it is because viewers know the race track is poor, or whether it has been simply unlucky with other competition.
One reason Russia may be unusually low is because of its start time, which caught viewers out again this year, as Sky’s audience increased throughout the race. The race started at 12:15 with 778k (10.3%), climbing past 800k at 12:35 and peaking with 918k (10.2%) at 13:35.
The peak audience of 918k is Sky’s second highest ever for Russia, only behind 2014 which peaked with 985k (8.2%) when BBC One also aired live coverage. This year, the competition was the bi-annual Ryder Cup golf tournament, which will have taken some viewers away from the Grand Prix.
Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor left Channel 4’s highlights programme picking up the scraps on Sunday evening. An audience of just 1.82m (9.1%) tuned into their show from 18:45 to 21:00, the broadcaster’s lowest F1 race day number since Austria in July.
Channel 4’s broadcast peaked with 2.32m (12.1%) at 19:15, just before the dancing started on BBC One. There might be an argument here that Channel 4 should have scheduled the F1 from 16:45 to 19:30, which the current contract allows them the privilege of doing so. Saying that, the qualifying number throws this train of thought into the river…
The combined average audience of 2.31 million viewers is the lowest for Russia on record, down 4.1 percent and 2.4 percent on 2016 and 2017’s average audiences. Whilst not a good number, the audience figure is not abnormal for Russia, either. The combined peak audience of 3.24 million viewers is also a low for Russia, a decrease of 0.2 percent and 5.8 percent on 2016 and 2017 respectively.
In a year where viewing figures have continued to decline on the whole for qualifying, the pattern continued in Russia.
Live coverage of qualifying on Sky Sports F1 averaged 232k (3.6%) from 12:00 to 14:35, an increase on last year’s figure of 197k (2.6%) when Channel 4 also aired the action live, but down on their 2016 audience of 275k (3.6%).
Channel 4’s highlights programme from 16:30 to 18:30 averaged a low 867k (7.5%), one of their lowest ever audiences for qualifying. Sporting competition was tough for them last Saturday, facing both the Ryder Cup on Sky Sports F1 and coverage of Chelsea versus Liverpool on BT Sport.
Sky’s programme peaked with 472k (6.8%) as Valtteri Bottas clinched pole, with Channel 4’s show peaking with 1.35m (10.7%) later in the afternoon.
The combined audience of 1.10 million viewers is the lowest ever for Russia, and the lowest for qualifying since the Canadian Grand Prix in June.
Formula 1 was lucky to have a close championship race, throughout the Summer months, keeping audiences engaged during the latter stages of the World Cup and through into Belgium and Italy.
Now, as Hamilton drives off into the distance, the wheels appear to be falling off the wagon, and not for the first time either. Time will tell as to whether viewing figures can recover for the final hurdle towards Abu Dhabi.
The 2017 Russian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.