Flashback: 2009 Australian Grand Prix

After twelve years of F1 on commercial television in the United Kingdom, Formula 1 returned to the BBC ten years ago this weekend, with live coverage of the 2009 Australian Grand Prix.

To celebrate the anniversary, Motorsport Broadcasting looks back at their race day offering from the opening race. The BBC’s offering was over a year in the making, with ITV pulling out of the sport in March 2008.

Every session live, multiple video streams, a new presentation team led by Jake Humphrey, 2009 marked the start of a new era of Formula 1 broadcasting in the UK.

ITV’s coverage ended on a high note the previous year, with Lewis Hamilton winning his first ever championship in dramatic fashion. Now, it was time for BBC to stamp their authority on the sport that they arguably neglected thirteen years earlier.

  • Date: Sunday 29th March 2009
  • Channel: BBC One / BBC Red Button
  • Time: 06:00 to 09:00 / 09:00 to 10:00
  • Presenter: Jake Humphrey
  • Reporter: Lee McKenzie
  • Reporter: Ted Kravitz
  • Commentator: Jonathan Legard
  • Commentator: Martin Brundle
  • Analyst: David Coulthard
  • Analyst: Eddie Jordan

Only Ted Kravitz and Martin Brundle made the jump from ITV to the BBC in the off-season.

The BBC’s in-house commentator Jonathan Legard, who previously was the voice of F1 for Radio 5 Live, joined Brundle in the box, whilst Lee McKenzie joined Kravitz as the BBC’s roving reporter.

In addition, the BBC’s radio offering, with David Croft, Anthony Davidson and Holly Samos leading the coverage took on added impetus, as the BBC not only covered practice in audio form, but now visually via the Red Button.

> BBC archive blog: F1 editor, the best job in the world (Mark Wilkin, Editor – Friday 06/03/09)

Formula 1’s return to the corporation was supported by a significant cross-platform campaign spanning digital, radio and television, bringing the sport into the digital age. Their pre-season trailer, filmed in South Africa, depicted a car chase between a yellow car and black car, which ended with a familiar bass riff. Welcome back, ‘The Chain’…

But before The Chain, there is the small matter of ‘The Scream of Science’, an 80 second promo intended to get the heart racing. Voiced by Louis Mellis, it is one of the best trailers for Formula 1 full-stop, and one that fans watch ten years later, which is a sign of just how good it is.

The BBC’s actual title sequence, produced by Liquid TV, was fully computer generated (CGI), ending with various racing cars converging into one, with The Chain in full voice in the background.

“A brand-new season, and a new channel,” were the words that greeted viewers, as Humphrey walked down the Albert Park pit lane. The BBC ditched ITV’s ‘blazer style’, which had greeted their coverage for the past three years in favour of a more casual style.

As a collective, the BBC’s coverage focused heavily on the Brawn story. The team, led by Ross Brawn, rising from the ashes of Honda in spectacular style. The story went beyond Formula 1, and into sporting history. Think Leicester City style for readers unfamiliar with the Brawn story.

Interspersed with the Brawn angle were video edits shining the light on the remainder of the 2009 field, with Legard providing voiceover. Kravitz provided his own voiceover for the qualifying report.

The main feature in the build-up focused on the bushfires that hit Australia in the weeks before the Grand Prix, as a film crew travelled with Red Bull driver Mark Webber through the aftermath to meet some of the victims, a stark reminder of the contrast beween F1 and some of the outside world.

2009 Australian GP - BBC pre-show
The BBC’s presentation team of Jake Humphrey, David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan in pit lane before the race.

As the discussion becomes more fluid in the half hour before lights out, it is clear Humphrey has done a huge amount of research, coming across to the viewer as knowledgeable, yet down to earth, for what is his first Grand Prix presenting. At this stage, the show and discussion feel raw, with all three new to their paddock roles.

Pleasingly, the build-up strikes a balance on Formula 1’s technical aspects (diffusers, otherwise known as ‘confusers’ in Jordan’s dictionary), explaining them without alienating the casual viewer, whilst giving an introduction on key motor sport terminology through a ‘Behind the Formula’ segment narrated by Brundle.

The CGI which featured in the opening title sequence is a running theme through the BBC’s 2009 output, with CGI fly-overs of the Melbourne circuit leading into the calendar graphic, as well as being utilised during the track guide with Brundle and Coulthard. The track guide is informative, both using their previous Melbourne experience to their advantage, aiding the broadcast.

Attention turns back to the British drivers, with Brawn sponsor and Virgin owner Richard Branson joining in on proceedings, as we approach lights out, and Brundle’s first BBC grid walk!

A media scrum of sizeable proportions greets Brundle on the grid, the media trying to grab both Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, but Brundle manages to navigate through the scrums. The highlight is Brundle’s front wing analysis, suggesting that the wings would be more aesthetically pleasing with “brown paper bags over them.”

Brundle – Jenson, can you do this?
Button – Yes.
Brundle – How?
Button – By crossing the line first at the end of the race.

After the grid walk, Coulthard and Jordan wrap up the pre-show discussion, outlining what activities take place between now and lights out. Ferrari’s Chris Dyer adds additional insight on Brawn with Kravitz, giving suggestions as to why Brawn are out in front.

And then, for the first time since the 1996 Japanese Grand Prix, is a F1 race airing live and uninterrupted for UK fans!

For Brundle, 2009 was his thirteenth season in the F1 commentary box. For Legard, it was his first F1 television commentary, although at that stage he was a veteran in his own right, if not in that given context.

One of the new regulations for 2009 was that F1 teams had to declare the weight of their car following qualifying, the information sensibly used by Formula One Management (FOM) in their graphics set. However, there were no graphics related to tyres, even if they played a pivotal part in the race as various drivers hit the ‘cliff’ and slumped down the pecking order.

What a difference a year makes. Lewis Hamilton dominated this event last year, now he needs a set of binoculars to see the lights go out. – BBC co-commentator Martin Brundle commenting on Hamilton’s trajectory.

Brawn’s fortunes off the line are mixed, with Barrichello tumbling down the order, causing mayhem at turn one. Legard’s commentary at the start is far too fast (almost as if he was commentating on radio…), but he soon settles down into a rhythm.

Brundle’s expertise is invaluable from the get-go, making sense of Ferrari’s early progress, due to their soft tyres combined with the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), as well as fantastic analysis of the turn one crash.

The KERS device has a significant impact on the race as a whole, not only for Ferrari, but also Hamilton yet, speedometer aside, does not play a part in F1’s graphics set. Unlike in more recent years, when you can see the rear wing opening for the Drag Reduction System (DRS), there is no obvious way the viewer can see when a driver is using KERS to overtake.

With high-definition not yet a thing for Formula 1, the graphics set (on the BBC feed at least) remains within the 4:3 ‘safe zone’, with timing information sporadically scrolling across the bottom of the screen, although this is far too infrequent for my liking.

Despite the inferior graphics, Legard utilises the timing screens on offer to him fantastically to spot when cars are hitting the cliff and informing the viewer, although there was a feeling of repetitiveness as the race unfolded. At one stage, BMW’s Robert Kubica was six seconds off the pace due to tyre degradation before his pit stop resulting in significant field spread.

Nakajima helped close the field back up by crashing his Williams, the BBC using the Safety Car opportunity to promote their post-race forum show, no Twitter back then and instead an e-mail address!

2009 Australian GP - Hamilton and speedometer.png
On-board with McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton during the 2009 Australian Grand Prix. Featured on FOM’s graphic is the speed, rev counter, throttle and brake usage, and amount of KERS battery left.

The camera angles were noticeably higher at some corners here than what we have currently, FOM under Liberty Media’s ownership reverting to some of the old F1 Digital angles to capture the speed, which was not as noticeable during 2009. Saying that, I did enjoy seeing a camera angle panning down between turns five and six, showing the speed following the fast right turn.

Following Nakajima’s crash and into the latter stage, the race is all about “who is going to hit the cliff first” where the tyres are concerned. One thing that occurred to me as the race progressed was that I was complaning about the direction less, primarily because there were fewer graphics that alerted viewers of emerging battles. In other words, if the commentary team did not alert viewers that driver X was closing on Y, the fans watching at home would be totally oblivious.

The cliff eventually does hit, with Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel suffering the most: Rosberg’s Williams being overtaken by multiple drivers, whilst Vettel’s race ended in a ‘clumsy’ collision with BMW’s Robert Kubica. The drama, which is explained well in commentary, promotes Barrichello to second, and gifting Brawn GP a one-two finish on their debut!

Prior to the podium celebrations on the cool down lap, there is some good discussion between Legard and Brundle talking about Brawn’s winter, and why Brawn were right to pick Barrichello over Bruno Senna, who media expected to take the second Brawn seat.

20 minutes from chequered flag to off-air was just about enough for the BBC to squeeze in the podium, top three press conference, as well as interviews with Hamilton and Nick Fry.

The whole of the post-race segment on BBC One had a feel-good factor to it with the underdog effect playing its part, in what was a fantastic news story for the whole of Formula 1.

2009 Australian GP - Button

Of course, it was not just 20 minutes, because following the BBC One transmission, for the first time ever was an additional 60-minutes of analysis and chatter via the BBC’s interactive Red Button service.

The team decamped to the Force India area within the Melbourne paddock, with Humphrey, Coulthard and Jordan accompanied by single camera set-up for most of the broadcast.

An additional four Brawn interviews followed during the F1 Forum, with both drivers in the interview ‘pen’, Branson, and Button’s engineer Andrew Shovlin during the forum. One may argue that this is over-the-top, but the size of the story arguably justifies this.

A secondary factor is that, back in 2009, there was no concept of the interview ‘pen’ beyond the top three, meaning that it was anywhere goes in the paddock. On one hand, that is to the detriment of the broadcast meaning that we do not get to hear all the stories, but meant that we heard a variety of different voices from on and off the track as the show progressed.

During the broadcast, Kravitz interviewed team bosses Martin Whitmarsh (McLaren) and Mario Theissen (BMW), with Vijay Mallya (Force India) joining the presentation team live, all three teams discussed in detail, which may not have been possible in the ITV days with limited air-time.

> BBC archive blog: Reflecting on a memorable Melbourne weekend (Jake Humphrey – 30/03/09)
> BBC archive blog: The morning after the morning before (Roger Mosey, Head of BBC Sport – 30/03/09)

More importantly, the conversation flowed from one subject to another, instead of the BBC treating them as standalone entitles: Whitmarsh’s interview touched on Ferrari and Brawn, whilst Mallya’s interview focused on Force India’s late development due to the timing of their engine agreement, and how McLaren in turn helped seal the deal in that respect.

All of this helped the programme, which aired without significant constraints or the worry of any upcoming commercials, a breakthrough for Formula 1 broadcasting in the UK.

The three analysts referred to their own experience at various points, Coulthard leading Brundle into a conversation about Brawn’s car design, relying on Brundle’s experience from working with Brawn in sports cars.

The crew dissected the race ending incident between Vettel and Kubica, Coulthard “very disappointed” with both, whilst Brundle brought up Vettel’s past in this area, having smashed into Webber in Japan 2007. The debate led to the first of many friendly disagreements between Jordan and Coulthard, the two disagreeing on whether Vettel should have apologised to close friend and BMW boss Theissen (which the BBC’s cameras captured in the paddock).

In addition to the World Feed analysis, having access to additional race feeds meant that the BBC could play these into the Red Button broadcast, such as analysis from Hamilton’s own on-board.

The first BBC F1 forum at the 2009 Australian Grand Prix. Jake Humphrey (l), Ted Kravitz and Lee McKenzie (top r), David Coulthard, Eddie Jordan and Martin Brundle (bottom r).
The first BBC F1 forum at the 2009 Australian Grand Prix. Jake Humphrey (l), Ted Kravitz and Lee McKenzie (top r), David Coulthard, Eddie Jordan and Martin Brundle (bottom r).

In later years, the forum went on for as long as deemed necessary, but to start with, the programme ran to time. Only one e-mail managed its way into the broadcast, but irrespective, the question generated an open-end discussion, paving the way for what was to come in future.

Kravitz and McKenzie joined Humphrey, Coulthard, Jordan and Brundle in the temporary Force India set-up, to reflect on their first weekend in Melbourne.

Times Like These by Foo Fighters played out the BBC’s first Formula 1 television broadcast in nearly thirteen years, a marathon four-hour broadcast across two outlets.

Overnight viewing figures quickly justified their expansive coverage: a staggering peak audience of nearly seven million viewers watched the race, with many millions more reached across digital and radio.

For Brawn, for Button, for Barrichello, and for the Beeb, Melbourne 2009 really was a fairy tale.


Scheduling: The 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix / Argentine MotoGP

From Australia, Formula 1 heads onto Bahrain, for the second round of the 2019 season.

2016 Drivers’ Champion Nico Rosberg and Anthony Davidson join Sky Sports F1 for the first time this year. As announced during Melbourne, Ted Kravitz returns to their weekend coverage in China. Sky are again airing the race across both their F1 channel and their general entertainment outlet Sky One.

The Grand Prix faces tough competition, as qualifying on Saturday starts at the same time as the 15:00 football matches, whilst the race goes head-to-head with Liverpool versus Tottenham, a match that could prove pivotal in the Premier League title race.

Channel 4’s highlights air later in the evening, the race programme starting at 21:00, with Billy Monger providing analysis alongside David Coulthard and Steve Jones.

Excluding adverts, the length of the highlights show is not too dissimilar to the BBC highlights show for Bahrain. From 2012 to 2014, the BBC’s three race day shows lasted 80, 95 and 90 minutes respectively, although the amount of action in Channel 4’s show this Sunday will be shorter than BBC’s previous efforts.

Elsewhere, in the Sky Sports F1 schedule, Natalie Pinkham’s pre-season interview with Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo gets a 30-minute run-out at various points in the build-up to Bahrain, whilst the Formula Two series returns for a new season.

Further west, Argentina plays host to round two of the MotoGP season, and the World Rally Championship heads to France for the Tour de Corse.

NOTE: Clocks go forward one hour on Sunday 31st March, with the change from Greenwich Mean Time to British Summer Time. The times listed are for GMT on Saturday and before; BST for Sunday and afterwards…

Channel 4 F1
30/03 – 19:00 to 20:30 – Qualifying Highlights
31/03 – 21:00 to 23:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
29/03 – 10:45 to 12:45 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
29/03 – 14:45 to 16:45 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
30/03 – 11:45 to 13:30
=> 11:45 – Practice 3
=> 13:10 – Paddock Walkabout
30/03 – 14:00 to 16:30 – Qualifying (also Sky One)
=> 14:00 – Pre-Show
=> 14:55 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event)
31/03 – 14:30 to 19:00 – Race (also Sky One)
=> 14:30 – Pit Lane Live
=> 15:30 – On the Grid
=> 16:05 – Race
=> 18:00 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
28/03 – 15:00 to 15:30 – Drivers’ Press Conference
28/03 – 17:00 to 17:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
30/03 – 16:30 to 17:00 – The F1 Show (also Sky Sports Main Event)
03/04 – 18:30 to 19:00 – F1 Midweek Debrief

BBC Radio F1
28/03 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
29/03 – 11:00 to 12:30 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
29/03 – 15:00 to 16:30 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
31/03 – 16:00 to 18:10 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

MotoGP – Argentina (BT Sport 2)
29/03 – 11:45 to 19:00 – Practice 1 and 2
30/03 – 12:00 to 19:00
=> 12:00 – Practice 3
=> 15:00 – Qualifying
31/03 – 13:30 to 21:00
=> 13:30 – Warm Ups
=> 15:15 – Moto3
=> 17:00 – Moto2
=> 18:30 – MotoGP
=> 20:00 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Argentina (Quest)
01/04 – 18:00 to 19:00 – Highlights

Formula Two – Bahrain (Sky Sports F1)
29/03 – 08:25 to 09:20 – Practice (also Sky Sports Main Event)
29/03 – 13:45 to 14:20 – Qualifying
30/03 – 10:00 to 11:20 – Race 1
31/03 – 12:05 to 13:10 – Race 2

World Rally Championship – Tour de Corse (All Live – BT Sport Extra 1)
Every stage also live via WRCPlus.com
29/03 – 07:00 to 18:45 – Stages 1 to 6
30/03 – 06:00 to 17:30 – Stages 7 to 12
31/03 – 08:00 to 12:45 – Stages 13 and 14

World Rally Championship – Tour de Corse
29/03 – 21:45 to 22:15 – Day 1 Highlights (BT Sport 3)
30/03 – 15:00 to 16:00 – Stage 11 (BT Sport/ESPN)
31/03 – 22:30 to 23:00 – Day 2 Highlights (BT Sport 1)
31/03 – 11:00 to 12:30 – Stage 14 [Power Stage] (BT Sport 2)
31/03 – 19:00 to 19:30 – Day 3 Highlights (BT Sport 1)
01/04 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights (5Spike)

This post will be amended if anything changes.

ASA receives complaints over Sky’s F1 pre-season promotion

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has received complaints surrounding Sky’s Formula 1 pre-season promotion, the body has confirmed.

The authority, which is the UK’s regulator of advertising, received eleven complaints in total from members of the public. Complainants challenged Sky’s pre-season strategy around their ‘best-ever offer‘, suggesting that Sky’s advertising was misleading.

Sky are running an offer through March that allows fans to subscribe to the Sky Sports F1 channel for an additional £10.00 on top of their existing Sky package.

However, complainants argued that advertising across their social media outlets and website did not make it clear that customers could only activate the offer on top of Sky’s entry-level Entertainment package, and that the offer was unavailable to customers of other services (such as Virgin Media).

Shy have since amended the wording to make it clearer for consumers, following intervention from the authority.

> Doing the sums: the cost of viewing Sky Sports F1 in 2019

In a statement to Motorsport Broadcasting, the regulator said “We approached Sky with the concerns that had been raised. They accepted that they had made an editorial mistake on their Twitter feed and on their website about the F1 package.”

“They deleted the tweet and amended the website claims to make it immediately clear that consumers can only get this channel for £10 a month on top of a subscription.”

Based on viewing figures from last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, Sky’s F1 deal has attracted new customers to their platform. In isolation, the average audience for their Melbourne race programme on the F1 channel increased in volume by 14 percent year-on-year.

The Grand Prix season continues next weekend in Bahrain.


Scheduling: The 2019 Sanya E-Prix

Formula E remains in the far east for the second leg of its Asian tour, as the championship heads to China for the Sanya E-Prix.

After its one-off appearance on BBC Two last time out in Hong Kong, the series returns to BBC’s Red Button on Saturday, with World Feed only coverage returning. As always, Vernon Kay and Nicki Shields preside over proceedings, with Bob Varsha, Jack Nicholls, and Dario Franchitti in the commentary box.

On the radio side, Tom Gaymor, Claire Cottingham and Marc Priestley will commentate on the action for Formula E Radio as well as BBC 5 Live Sports Extra.

Over in the west, the Circuit of the Americas plays host the IndyCar Series. Barring any technical difficulties, the race itself will run without commercials for UK viewers on Sky Sports F1, a stark contrast to the first race in St Petersburg when the UK programme followed the same ad-break pattern as their US counterparts.

Formula E – Sanya
Shakedown, Practice and Qualifying also air live on YouTube…
22/03 – 07:45 to 08:45 – Shakedown (BT Sport 1)
22/03 – 23:15 to 00:15 – Practice 1 (BT Sport 1)
23/03 – 01:30 to 02:15 – Practice 2 (BT Sport 1)
23/03 – 03:00 to 04:45 – Qualifying (BT Sport 1 and Eurosport)
23/03 – 06:30 to 08:30 – Race: World Feed
=> live on BBC’s digital platforms
=> live on BT Sport 1
=> live on Eurosport
23/03 – 06:30 to 08:10 – Race: Voltage (YouTube)
24/03 – 00:00 to 01:00 – Highlights (Quest)

Formula E Radio – Sanya (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
23/03 – 03:15 to 04:50 – Qualifying
23/03 – 06:45 to 08:20 – Race

Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy Series – Sanya (BT Sport 1)
23/03 – 00:15 to 01:00 – Qualifying
23/03 – 04:45 to 05:45 – Race

IndyCar Series – Austin (Sky Sports F1)
23/03 – 19:00 to 20:30 – Qualifying
24/03 – 17:00 to 20:00 – Race

If anything changes, the schedule will be updated.

Australian Grand Prix peaks with 1.4 million viewers across Sky’s TV platforms

A peak audience of nearly 1.4 million viewers watched the season opening Australian Grand Prix across Sky’s portfolio of television channels, overnight viewing figures show.

The figure includes those who watched either live, or one of Sky’s repeat airings before Channel 4’s highlights programme started.

As always, this site reports overnight viewing figures supplied by Overnights.tv. The figures include those who watched between live and 02:00 the following morning, known in the industry as Live + VOSDAL (live and ‘video on same day as live’).

The audience figures reported exclude those that watched the programming via platforms such as All 4, Sky Go and Now TV.

For 2019, to present an equal measure across years, this site will continue to use a 210-minute time slot for Sky’s coverage, covering 70 minutes before lights out, to around 50 minutes after the chequered flag. This covers the last half of Pit Lane Live, all of On the Grid, the race itself, and the first half of Paddock Live.

Race – Sky live
Sky aired live coverage of the race across their F1 channel, Main Event and Sky One from 04:00 to 07:30 on Sunday morning.

An average audience of 441k (31.5%) watched the broadcast, a strong increase on last year’s figure of 344k (18.4%), and their highest Melbourne average since 2015. 291k (20.7%) watched via the F1 channel, with a further 66k (4.8%) and 84k (6.0%) watching via Main Event and Sky One respectively.

Impressively, the broadcast hit a five-minute peak of 803k (38.0%) at 06:35, an increase of 43 percent on their 2018 number of 562k (20.4%), and their highest peak audience for Australia since 2014.

The peak audience increased proportionally more than the average because Sky’s wrap around segments have rated lower in recent years than compared to their 2015 numbers.

For Sky, the story does not stop there.

Race – Sky repeats
Following the race, the broadcaster aired five repeats of the race, before Channel 4’s highlights show aired at 14:00. The first repeat began at 08:00 across the same three channels, with another repeat across F1 and Sky One afterwards.

Normally, repeats do not make a statistical difference to the overall picture, and therefore go unreported. However, the difference for Australia is significant enough to report. Accounting for the different time slots, the five repeats recorded a combined peak of 574,000 viewers as Valtteri Bottas won the Grand Prix.

In totality (from a television perspective), Sky’s audience for Australia peaked with 1.38 million viewers, around double their audience from twelve months ago, and in-line with their peak audience from 2012, including repeat airings.

Sky One is the biggest contributor, as their two re-runs peaked with 382,000 viewers collectively. It is very rare for a sporting event on pay television to add that many viewers, the early start for the race more than likely contributing to the high repeat audience.

Some of the viewers that watched the race live may have watched one of the repeats later, but that number is unlikely to be significant enough to make a major difference. Overall, the viewing figures are fantastic for Sky, and bodes well for them moving forward.

Race – Channel 4
Despite Sky’s strong gains, Channel 4 remained the biggest Formula 1 broadcaster in the UK over the weekend, but with damaged goods.

Highlights of the race averaged 1.38m (13.3%) from 14:00 to 15:55, peaking with 1.81m (17.9%). Both figures are down significantly on last year’s average of 1.71m (16.8%) and peak figure of 2.15m (18.2%).

Given Sky’s strong audience figures, the transition of viewers appears to be from Channel 4 to Sky, as opposed to fans tuning out altogether, which is good news for the sport. The drop is of concern, the highlights programme struggling to pick up any additional casual viewers.

If you look at the live airings only, the combined average and combined peak audiences of 1.83 million and 2.61 million viewers respectively are the lowest on record for Australia. In isolation, the figures paint a very bleak picture, but on this occasion, it is also a false negative.

As referenced earlier, repeats add 200,000 viewers at its limit across multiple airings. Australia was different, with it being the start of a new broadcasting contract as Formula 1 heads into a new era primarily live on pay-TV.

Adding the five repeat airings together (considering the different slot lengths) increases the combined average to 2.09 million viewers, and combined peak audience to 3.18 million viewers, a significant increase, and in-line with the past three years.

Sky’s live coverage of qualifying from 05:00 to 07:30 brought in an average audience of 283k (16.4%) across their F1 channel, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One, an increase on last year’s audience of 252k (15.2%) over a slightly longer time slot.

The F1 channel averaged 190k (11.3%), with Main Event and Sky One bringing in 29k (1.6%) and 65k (3.5%) respectively. It is Sky’s highest audience for Melbourne qualifying since 2015, when 339k (16.4%) tuned in to watch.

Their programme peaked with 528k (22.9%) at 06:50 as the start of the final qualifying segment started, again Sky’s highest since 2015.

In comparison, Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 1.02m (11.8%) from 12:00 to 13:25, a decrease of 157,000 viewers on last year’s average of 1.18m (15.1%). Channel 4’s coverage reached a high of 1.37m (14.5%) at 12:55, also down on last year’s figure of 1.62m (20.2%).

The dent in Channel 4’s qualifying audience is likely due to stronger competition from ITV, the free-to-air channel airing live coverage of the Six Nations rugby tie between France and Italy.

The combined audience of 1.30 million viewers is down by around 100,000 viewers year-on-year and the lowest on record, whilst the combined peak audience of 1.89 million viewers is the lowest for Australia since 2006. Neither trend changes when including Sky’s repeats before Channel 4’s highlights programme started.

Final thoughts
A better result than Sky could have ever expected.

The worst case scenario here was that Sky struggled to increase their audience year-on-year, despite splashing the cash on blockbuster trailers. To double their audience year-on-year is a major success.

One of the drivers behind the increase was Sky One, which on its own added over half a million viewers. The first three races are airing live on Sky One, but what happens to those viewers when that disappears?

If Sky One’s viewers migrate over to the F1 channel to follow the sport, then that is great news for Sky. Similarly, the opposite is true if Sky One’s audience returns back to Channel 4’s highlights package from Baku onwards.

Australia is always one of the lowest rated races, with viewing figures tending to pick up in Bahrain, where F1 heads to next. The Sakhir race has aired live on free-to-air television since 2015, and will be a good indicator of how Formula 1’s viewership could change moving forward.

Update on March 18th at 20:10 – Not long after I posted this, Sky’s F1 lead commentator David Croft posted on Twitter that Sky’s coverage reached 2.1 milllion viewers, and combined Sky and Channel 4 reached 3.5 million viewers. For those unaware, that is the amount of viewers that watched three consecutive minutes of coverage.

The 2018 Australian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.