Sky’s Formula 1 figures in the UK soared to a record high to begin the 2021 season, overnight audience data from the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend shows.
F1 reaches highest ever pay-TV audience in the UK…
Live coverage of the race itself, which aired across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event, averaged 1.98 million viewers from lights out to chequered flag, according to a press release issued by Sky.
The race peaked with an excellent 2.23 million viewers as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen battled it out at the head of the field, the first time that Sky’s coverage of Formula 1 has peaked with over 2 million viewers, making it F1’s highest ever pay-TV audience in the UK.
Sky says that their audience for Bahrain jumped year-on-year by 42%, whilst the season opener increased by 31% on last year’s opener in Austria, a remarkable rise considering how strong 2020 was for Sky F1.
Their live programming comfortably beat Channel 4’s highlights programme on Sunday evening. The Whisper produced show peaked with 1.8 million viewers, meaning that a combined peak audience of over 4 million viewers watched F1 in the UK last Sunday.
For Sky, these are superb viewing figures, and a long time in the making, their F1 programming finally breaking the elusive ‘2 million barrier’ that Motorsport Broadcasting has referenced for years.
However, whilst we should recognise Sky’s strong audiences, we must also remember the bigger picture, in that F1’s audience figures in the UK are down on a decade ago, when the sport aired live on free-to-air television.
Although there was no domestic football action on Sunday, the Grand Prix still faced tough competition.
Sky’s live F1 programme faced live coverage from both England cricket (also on Sky) and England football (airing live on ITV). Later, Channel 4’s package faced competition from BBC One’s smash hit Line of Duty.
The audience figures exclude those viewers who watched on platforms such as Now, Sky Go and All 4, as well as those who listened to the BBC’s radio coverage of the Grand Prix.
Qualifying on Saturday saw similar record highs, with an average of 1.14 million viewers watching the 60-minute session on Sky, peaking with 1.34 million viewers.
In addition, Motorsport Broadcasting understands that all three Formula 2 races last weekend peaked with over 250,000 viewers – a fantastic set of figures for a series that struggled to hit 50,000 viewers on the same channel a few years ago.
…and in the Netherlands, but Germany feels the pay-TV crunch
Viewing figures also rose in the Netherlands, hitting record highs thanks to Verstappen’s challenge at the front, according to ratings agency SKO.
An average of 2.51 million viewers (54.3% audience share) watched the race on Ziggo Sport and Ziggo Sport Select from 16:55 to 18:40 local time.
The race peaked with a massive 3.08 million viewers. At its peak, 18% of the Netherlands population were watching the Grand Prix, an extraordinary number for the sport.
If the Hamilton and Verstappen battle turns into a championship contest, F1 has a year of strong audience figures ahead of them in both the UK and Netherlands.
Unusually, more people watched the Grand Prix in the Netherlands than in Germany on Sunday, as the sport moved to pay-TV in Germany and away from free-to-air television.
An audience of 1.12 million viewers (5.8% audience share) watched via Sky Sport F1 according to DWDL.de, an increase for Sky year-on-year, but a sharp drop of almost 75% on what F1 achieved last year in Germany, when it regularly achieved between 4 and 5 million viewers across RTL and Sky.
The difference between the UK and Germany is that, when F1 began to move to pay-TV in the UK in 2012, it happened gradually over time, giving the audience time to adapt and follow the sport, whereas German audiences have had a ‘big bang’ approach imposed.
Whilst F1’s audiences in the UK have unquestionably dropped, the drop over the past decade has been between 30% and 40%. Some of that is natural turnover, some of it is fans migrating to other platforms to view the sport which makes it difficult to quantify what the ‘true’ fall is.
But, at no time did F1 see a 75% slump in the UK, which makes Germany’s viewing figures far more concerning. Sadly though, this was also wholly predictable given the deal F1 agreed with Sky in Germany.
As if to show F1 what it was missing, Germany’s football World Cup qualifier on RTL (the station that aired F1 last year) peaked with nearly 7 million viewers.
The championship moves to Italy next for the second round of the season in Imola, which takes place on Sunday 18th April.
2021 marks Sky’s tenth season covering Formula 1 for fans in the UK, the sport having last aired fully free-to-air via the BBC in 2011.
From 2012 to 2018, the pay-TV broadcaster aired half of the races exclusively live, with the other half also airing live on free-to-air television.
Since 2019, Sky has covered F1 exclusively, with only the British Grand Prix airing live on free-to-air television on Channel 4. So, what options are available for UK F1 fans, and how does this compare to previous years?
Motorsport Broadcasting takes an in-depth look at the figures, to help fans decide which package is best for them…
All calculations in this article assume that we are still going to see a full 23-race Formula 1 season without COVID-19 causing an impact, but also comes with a slight caveat attached to them.
Who is airing what?
For fans of motor sport generally, Sky Sports is not just airing Formula 1 in 2021. As well as F1 itself, the F1 channel is also airing live coverage of Formula 2, Formula 3, Porsche Supercup, and the IndyCar Series.
In addition, fans can watch the GT World Challenge, Ferrari Challenge and Extreme E via Sky Sports, a shift from a few years ago when Sky’s motor sport portfolio consisted of the F1 programme and nothing else.
Meanwhile, BT Sport is home to live coverage of MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3 and MotoE, with BT also airing live coverage of the World Rally Championship this year.
As in previous years, expect coverage of the World Endurance Championship (outside of Le Mans) and World Rallycross to turn up on BT. However, fans also have access to most, if not all, of BT Sport’s motor sport portfolio via the respective championship’s over-the-top service.
Analysis that Motorsport Broadcasting conducted at the end of 2019 showed that, broadly speaking, if you are only interested in MotoGP or rallying, then the relevant over-the-top passes are the way to go.
Over on Eurosport, fans should expect to find coverage of Superbikes, both domestically and internationally, as well as Formula E and World Touring Cars, whilst the annual 24 Hours of Le Mans is always a highlight.
Remaining live on free-to-air television is the British Touring Car Championship on ITV4, whilst both Formula E and Extreme E air via the BBC’s digital platforms. Incredibly, the latter has also secured live coverage on ITV’s main channel for its finale each race weekend.
The big question mark this year is the W Series. The inaugural season aired live on Channel 4 in 2019 when the series formed part of the DTM weekend offering. Now, the series has joined forces with F1, and will be a fixture at 8 race weekends this year.
It begs the question as to whether W Series will air exclusively live on Sky Sports F1, or whether W Series are able to strike their own rights deal outside of F1’s existing agreements, potentially remaining live on Channel 4.
W Series have yet to comment on their 2021 offering, but this is an area to keep an eye on over forthcoming weeks.
F1 TV Pro
Formula 1 launched their over-the-top service in May 2018, and since then the service has grown in stature, both in terms of archive and in terms of live content.
Speculation mounted last year that F1 TV Pro was set to land in the UK when F1 released a survey, suggesting that F1 TV Pro would be part of Sky’s TV platform Sky Q.
Despite the suggestions, nothing has since come to fruition, and for 2021, F1 TV Pro is again not an option for UK fans. UK fans can subscribe to F1 TV Access for £2.29 a month, or £19.99 across the year, which gives you access to F1’s rich archive.
In the past two seasons, Sky have enticed F1 fans with their “F1 for £10” offer, which has been a success given that viewing figures for the F1 channel rose strongly last year.
The bad news for fans hoping to utilise a similar offer this year, is that no such offer exists this time around.
After changes to their packages last year, Sky’s pricing for new customers remains static this year. Sky’s Signature pack remains Sky’s entry level package for new subscribers.
Currently, new customers can grab the Signature Pack for £24.00 a month, or £21.00 when taking Sky Sports, which compares favourably to the previous Entertainment price of £22.00.
I mentioned last year that the price for viewing Formula 1 in ultra-high definition had tumbled thanks to the package changes.
Comparing like-for-like (ignoring the £10 offer), the F1 only options stay static year-on-year, but a £2 increase for the Sky Sports pack and a £1.00 increase for the Ultra HD add-on means that the Sky Sports Ultra HD option jumps by £36.00 year-on-year.
No matter whether you are interested in HD or Ultra HD, going for Sky Sports F1 alone instead of the whole Sky Sports pack means you save just £12.00 a year, or £1.00 per month.
Sky are increasingly looking at the big picture, there are many apps integrated into their Sky Q box such as YouTube, Spotify, Netflix, All 4 and BBC iPlayer.
The prices above apply for new customers, and account for any offers that Sky are currently running. Note that, outside of the offer periods, the Signature package will cost £31.00 as of April 1st, whilst the Sky Sports pack is £30.00. My advice: phone up, and renegotiate…
Overall, as the pricing structures currently stand, if you want to watch every Formula 1 race live on Sky, you are looking at a Sky monthly bill of between £42.00 and £52.00.
By this stage, if you are seriously considering Virgin Media, it is because you also want to get broadband and phone with them as a triple-play, as their TV only prices are steep.
The only way to get Sky Sports via Virgin Media is to take their Maxit TV pack at £55.00 a month (an increase of £2.00 per month on last year), and then add Sky Sports for an additional £31.75 a month.
This does changes radically however if also want to take Virgin’s broadband package. If you want to take their broadband offering, then you can grab their basic Maxit TV pack with Sky Sports, reducing the overall cost.
BT TV subscribers can watch Sky Sports via a Now pass.
BT TV is an IPTV service, meaning that readers wanting to subscribe to Sky Sports F1 will first need to sign up to BT’s broadband offering, making the below an apple and oranges comparison compared to Virgin Media and Sky.
BT’s pricing is like Virgin Media’s, although Virgin’s television offering is more comprehensive than BT’s. The benefit of BT is that you can flexibly change your packages as you see fit without any penalty.
If the idea of paying a significant amount of money for the pay-TV players does not sit well with you, there is still the option of Now, previously known as Now TV.
As well as Sky moving away from the “F1 for £10” offer, the F1 Season Ticket from Now has also disappeared for 2021. Some fans were e-mailed an exclusive offer to view Now for £20 a month, but oddly Now did not make this available more widely.
However, there are two offers currently running for F1 fans, although only one has a use for most of the season. Their offer gives you the Sports Monthly Membership pack for £25.00 per month for six months, after which it switches to £33.99 a month.
This option also includes Now Boost, allowing you to watch in full HD and surround sound, at a cost of £3.00 per month after the first three month. Assuming you cancel the Boost immediately after the six months, this works out at £266.97.
Now’s day pass remains £9.98, but the weekly pass is no more.
Sky Sports Mobile TV
In previous years, Sky Sports Mobile TV was clearly the cheapest of the bunch, and technically it still is based on the pricing on Sky’s website.
However, reviews of the app on both the iOS and Android app stores show that the app is clearly not working as intended, with users unable to purchase a subscription. As thus, Sky Sports Mobile TV disappears off the list of potential options, for now at least.
In summary, there are 10 different options, across four different players this year:
– £1,160.00 a year – Virgin Media (HD)* – £1,076.00 a year – Virgin Media (SD)* – £925.86 a year – BT TV (HD)** – £865.86 a year – BT TV (SD)** – £644.00 a year – Sky (All – UHD) – £632.00 a year – Sky (F1 – UHD) – £536.00 a year – Sky (All – HD) – £524.00 a year – Sky (F1 – HD) – £266.97 – Now (6 months Sports Membership + Boost) – offer (expires April 11th) – £229.54 – Now (Day Pass x 23)
* includes BT Sport as mandatory ** includes BT Broadband as mandatory
In comparison, F1 TV Pro for fans in America costs $79.99 per year, which translates to £58.00 across the whole year, significantly cheaper than any option above.
The long and short of it is that the cheapest ways to view F1 in the UK have disappeared across the board for this year.
Are any of the options above cheap enough to hook you in? If you have spotted anything worth adding, or noted any other deals out there, drop a line in the comments below.
Pricing and information correct as of March 27th, 2021, with BT’s prices amended and Now’s clarified on March 29th, 2021. Pricing is subject to change.
Motorsport Broadcasting understands that Neil Hodgson will join Emmett for the main MotoGP series, with Michael Laverty joining him for Moto2. Hodgson and Laverty will then rotate on a race-by-race alongside Emmett to cover the Moto3 class.
As a result of Emmett’s promotion, BT have brought Natalie Quirk into the MotoGP fold. Quirk will serve as MotoGP reporter, also presenting some segments of the programme in a similar vein to Emmett previously.
Quirk has been part of BT Sport’s wider programming since 2014, as both presenter and reporter. In recent years, Quirk has led BT’s speedway offering, both domestically and internationally.
Currently, Quirk serves as one of BT’s regular football presenters, presenting coverage of the UEFA Europa League and The National League, amongst others.
The rest of BT’s line-up remains the same, with Suzi Perry continuing to present the broadcaster’s main MotoGP offering.
Last month, BT and MotoGP confirmed that the pay-TV channel will continue to broadcast the series until the end of the 2024 season, extending their current rights deal by an additional three seasons.
BT to remain in UK for the first 5 rounds
The pay-TV broadcaster will remain in the UK for at least the first 5 rounds this season, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm.
BT began 2020 covering MotoGP from Triumph’s UK headquarters in Hinckley, before relocating to the BT Tower in London from September onwards.
I understand that BT’s presentation will continue from the BT Tower as the 2021 season gets underway due to the ongoing international travel restrictions.
The UK government hopes to ease international travel restrictions on May 17th. On that basis, BT intends to present their Mugello offering on-site over the weekend of May 28th to May 30th, but this is subject to change.
BT cannot realistically present their coverage on-site before then, as all their UK based talent would need to quarantine upon arrival back in the UK.
After a shorter than usual winter break, both Formula 1 and MotoGP are back!
Coverage of Formula 1, along with feeder series Formula 2 and Formula 3, airs live on Sky Sports in 2021, the broadcaster now entering their tenth season of covering the sport.
In addition, highlights of every race will air on Channel 4, with the free-to-air broadcaster also airing live coverage of the British Grand Prix weekend.
F1 – the personnel
The big change from a personnel perspective is the departure of Ben Edwards from Channel 4’s line-up, Edwards deciding to step down from his position at the end of last season.
Replacing Edwards in the box is Alex Jacques, who will commentate on Channel 4’s coverage alongside his existing Formula 2 and Formula 3 commitments.
Joining Jacques in the Channel 4 box is David Coulthard, whilst Mark Webber and presenter Steve Jones also remain part of Channel 4’s line-up. The crew will be out in Bahrain presenting coverage, as opposed to remotely in the UK.
Over on Sky, Simon Lazenby continues to front their coverage, with David Croft and Martin Brundle remaining in the commentary box.
Ted Kravitz and his Notebook return in an increased capacity. ‘Ted’s Notebook’, as it was affectionally known, returns after being absent from the 2019 and 2020 schedules during Scott Young’s previous tenure as Sky’s Director of F1.
Ted’s Notebook as a programme will not only be present post-race, but will also return to cover qualifying as well during 2021.
Elsewhere on Sky’s presentation line-up, expect the likes of Anthony Davidson, Karun Chandhok, Johnny Herbert, Natalie Pinkham, Paul di Resta and Rachel Brookes to feature as the season progresses.
Over on the radio airwaves, Jack Nicholls, Jennie Gow and Jolyon Palmer return to BBC Radio 5’s offering to talk listeners through the 23-race season.
F1 – the coverage
The championship reverts to a weekend structure last seen 15 years ago, with the two Friday practice sessions reduced to 60 minutes, a throwback to the 2006 season.
Furthermore, races will now start on the hour instead of ten past the hour, again a throwback to yesteryear.
The structure of Formula 2 and Formula 3 changes radically for 2021: less weekends, more races, intended to reduce costs.
Each race weekend will now feature 3 races, the two series alternating their way through 2021.
As well as adapting to the above, Sky have moved The F1 Show to a Thursday evening time slot, with both Welcome to the Weekend and The Story so Far dropped from their schedules.
Plans for a Sunday Social show preceding the main build-up on Sunday’s have not materialised after being in Sky’s pre-COVID plans for 2020.
Channel 4’s scheduling remains identical to 2020, with a 90-minute show for qualifying and a 150-minute show for the race itself, both including ad-breaks.
F1 – over-the-top
The only way to watch F1 live legally in the UK is via Sky Sports F1 in some form.
Fans cannot access the premium tier of F1’s over-the-top service, despite F1 and Sky exploring this openly last year.
For those outside of the UK watching via F1 TV Pro, access to on-board angles from every car is available, as well as the Pit Lane Channel.
With no Jacques on the Pit Lane Channel this season, F1 says that Alex Brundle, Sam Collins, Rosanna Tennant, Matt Gallagher, and Jordan King will provide commentary this year.
Friday 19th March 19:30 to 21:30 – The F1 Show: Season Launch (Sky Sports F1) All Day – Drive to Survive: Season 3 (Netflix)
Tuesday 23rd March 21:00 to 22:00 – F1: Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
Thursday 25th March 13:00 to 16:35 – F1: Drivers’ Press Conference (Sky Sports F1) 17:00 to 18:00 – The F1 Show (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
Friday 26th March 10:00 to 11:00 – F2: Practice (Sky Sports F1) 11:00 to 12:45 – F1: Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1) – also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 11:25 to 12:35 13:45 to 14:25 – F2: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1) 14:45 to 16:30 – F1: Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1) – also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 14:55 to 16:05
Saturday 27th March 10:15 to 11:20 – F2: Sprint Race 1 (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event) 11:45 to 13:10 – F1: Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event) 14:00 to 16:30 – F1: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event) – also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 14:55 to 16:10 16:30 to 17:35 – F2: Sprint Race 2 (Sky Sports F1) 18:30 to 20:00 – F1: Qualifying Highlights (Channel 4) 21:00 to 21:30 – Ted’s Qualifying Notebook (Sky Sports F1)
Sunday 28th March 11:40 to 13:00 – F2: Feature Race (Sky Sports F1) 14:30 to 19:30 – F1: Race (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event) => 14:30 – Grand Prix Sunday => 15:55 – Race – also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 16:00 to 18:00 => 18:00 – Chequered Flag => 19:00 – Ted’s Notebook 20:30 to 23:00 – F1: Race Highlights (Channel 4)
Full scheduling details for the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Friday 26th March and are subject to change.
Live coverage of MotoGP remains on BT Sport for 2021, the pay-TV broadcaster having recently extended their deal with MotoGP to continue airing the sport until 2024.
MotoGP – the key details
In a similar vein to Edwards on the F1 front, BT’s lead commentator Keith Huewen also decided to step away from the day-to-day commentary role at the end of 2020.
Huewen cited the “unexpected positive effect of the pandemic” as to the reason for his departure. Gavin Emmett succeeds Huewen as lead commentator, with Natalie Quirk stepping into Emmett’s previous role as reporter.
For fans not wanting to subscribe to BT, coverage is also available via MotoGP’s over-the-top VideoPass service.
Available to fans for €199.99 (£171.73) across the season, the service gives fans the ability to watch from multiple angles, as well as access to MotoGP’s rich archive from 1992 onwards.
On the free-to-air highlights front, coverage will return to ITV4 this season after negotiations between Dorna and prospective broadcasters went to the eleventh hour.
Highlights will again air on Monday evenings, moving from Quest where it has aired for the past two seasons, but with limited success.
Friday 26th March 10:45 to 18:00 – Practice (BT Sport 2) => 10:50 – Moto3: Practice 1 => 11:45 – Moto2: Practice 1 => 12:40 – MotoGP: Practice 1 => 15:10 – Moto3: Practice 2 => 16:05 – Moto2: Practice 2 => 17:00 – MotoGP: Practice 2
Saturday 27th March 10:15 to 13:15 – Practice (BT Sport 2) => 10:25 – Moto3: Practice 3 => 11:20 – Moto2: Practice 3 => 12:15 – MotoGP: Practice 3 14:00 to 18:00 – Qualifying (BT Sport 2) => 14:30 – Moto3: Qualifying => 15:25 – Moto2: Qualifying => 16:20 – MotoGP: Practice 4 => 17:00 – MotoGP: Qualifying
Sunday 28th March 11:45 to 19:30 – Races (BT Sport 2) => 11:45 – Asia Talent Cup => 12:30 – Warm Ups => 14:15 – Moto3: Race => 16:00 – Moto2: Race => 17:30 – MotoGP: Race => 19:00 – Chequered Flag
Monday 29th March 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)
Full scheduling details for the 2021 Qatar MotoGP. Scheduling details correct as of Friday 26th March and are subject to change.
As I announced in my piece last month, I will not be publishing scheduling articles for every single F1 and MotoGP race weekend this season.
Instead, this site will publish schedules for key events in the motor racing calendar throughout the year, such as the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, Indianapolis 500, and 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The voice of Formula 1, Murray Walker has died at the age of 97, the BRDC has confirmed.
Walker commentated on motor sport for decades, from his first Grand Prix race in 1949 all the way through until retiring from his Formula 1 commentary role at the end of 2001, for both the BBC and ITV.
In a statement, the BRDC said “It’s with great sadness we share the news of the passing of BRDC Associate Member Murray Walker OBE.”
“A friend, a true motorsport legend, the nations favourite commentator and a contagious smile. Murray will be sadly missed; his mark and voice will live on in motorsport and our hearts forever.”
“We thank Murray for all he has done for our community.”
Writing on Twitter, Martin Brundle, who commentated with Walker full-time from 1997 to 2001 said “Rest in Peace Murray Walker. Wonderful man in every respect. National treasure, communication genius, Formula One legend.”
Silverstone’s Managing Director Stuart Pringle said “It is with great sadness that I have to inform Silverstone’s fans that Murray Walker died earlier today. He was to so many of us fans of F1, the voice that epitomised the sport we love.”
“Knowledgeable beyond words and with a passion that occasionally got the better of him in commentary, he brought the sport and some of its greatest moments to life in a way that ensured they remained seared in our memories for ever.”
“Much will be written about the impact that Murray had on the sport and we will make a more fulsome tribute in due course, but for the time being rest in peace Murray and thank you.”
A legend who has inspired generations
When people think of F1, past or present, they think of a handful of names. Senna. Schumacher. Fangio. Prost. Hamilton. Bernie. And Murray.
The first F1 race I watched was the 1999 Canadian Grand Prix. Two things got me addicted to F1 that year and into the 2000s: Michael Schumacher in the iconic Ferrari, with Murray Walker and Martin Brundle providing the sound track. Without Murray, I doubt this site would exist.
Although Walker did step aside at the 2001 US Grand Prix, the joys of the internet means that his commentary lives forever, and is easy to find on any F1 archive clip from the 1970s to the 1990s.
I cannot mention Walker without mentioning James Hunt, two opposites, but joined together in the commentary box discussing the one thing they loved most: motor sport.
During Walker’s tenure, F1’s popularity in the UK boomed, thanks in part to Nigel Mansell’s and Damon Hill’s on-track successes, but also due to Walker’s commentary, Walker communicating the intricates of the sport to the masses.
Lines such as “And I’ve got to stop, because I’ve got a lump in my throat!” are forever etched in F1 history, and will always will be.
I had the pleasure of meeting Murray twice. The first was at a signing for his ‘Unless I’m Very Much Mistaken’ book in late 2002. What I remember about the evening most was not the actual signing, but the long queue of hundreds of people, which stretched far outside the Waterstones.
From kids, like me, through to the grandparents, everyone wanted Murray to sign a copy of the book. And that was a sign of just how much people connected with Murray at home. Murray was special, and he brought our wonderful sport to life.
Fast forward 16 years, and to the second meeting of me and Murray, this time at Channel 4’s Formula 1 launch.
Murray was on stage with the rest of the Channel 4 team, before joining the rest of the team in roundtable discussions with media afterwards. Even at the age of 92, Murray was in fine form.
Sadly, there will not be a third meeting.
The motor racing paddock is filled with young talent: racers, mechanics, hospitality, and on the broadcasting side, producers, commentators, presenters and so on.
All of them have a connecting bond: they grew up listening to Murray’s infectious commentary. Without Murray, the motor racing paddock today would be a worse place. There will never be another Murray Walker.
Murray, you inspired generations, not one generation, but multiple. Legend is bandied around far too much, but you were a legend, and simply the best.