Analysing the disparity between the front runners and tailenders in Sky’s F1 offering

Teams at the front of the Formula 1 grid are eight times more likely to appear during Sky Sports’ coverage of the sport compared to those in the midfield and beyond, new research from Motorsport Broadcasting shows.

The research focuses on the areas of Sky’s offering which are prepared in advance. This includes their build-up to each qualifying, sprint, and race session during 2022, encompassing paddock interviews, driver analysis via the Sky Pad and feature-length segments.

The main aim of the research is to understand what level of coverage that the broadcaster actively gives to each Grand Prix team. A gap in coverage between those at the front and the rear would be unsurprising and has existed for decades, however, the level of disparity from a UK perspective is currently unknown.

Excluded from the research are the ‘glamour’ VTs before and after a commercial break, ad-hoc analysis from within the paddock, post-race analysis, and Sky’s supplementary programming, including The F1 Show and Any Driven Monday given their lower audience.

While Sky primarily serves its audience at home, English-speaking countries, including the US, Canada, and Australia, take their UK offering.

Leclerc and Horner lead the field

There were two men during 2022 that featured predominantly during Sky’s pre-session output: Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

Out of all the content last season that Motorsport Broadcasting attributed to a given driver, Leclerc featured in 13.7% of it.

Leclerc’s fortunes at the front of Sky’s field were in stark contrast to team mate Carlos Sainz, who was part of just 4.9% of their driver offering, the biggest disparity on the grid during 2022.

Sky focussed on Leclerc through the majority of his 2022 campaign with analysis of his pole position laps, before his championship challenge ended, while Sainz comparatively speaking struggled to get a look in.

However, Sky did air one of the most insightful pieces of the year with Sainz, taking a behind the scenes look at his preparation for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix with trainer Rupert Manwaring also involved.

From an airtime perspective, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton pipped Red Bull driver Max Verstappen by 0.04 percentage points, the two coming in on 11.60% and 11.56% respectively. Hamilton beat team mate George Russell by 1.6%, while Verstappen beat Sergio Perez more convincingly.

PositionDriverTeamPercentage of content featured in during 2022
1Charles LeclercFerrari13.7%
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes11.6%
3Max VerstappenRed Bull11.6%
4George RussellMercedes10.0%
5Lando NorrisMcLaren9.4%
6Daniel RicciardoMcLaren6.1%
7Sebastian VettelAston Martin5.2%
8Fernando AlonsoAlpine4.9%
9Carlos SainzFerrari4.8%
10Sergio PerezRed Bull4.5%
11Esteban OconAlpine4.5%
12Kevin MagnussenHaas3.3%
13Alex AlbonWilliams2.3%
14Nyck de VriesWilliams1.7%
15Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri1.6%
16Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo1.4%
17Mick SchumacherHaas1.3%
18Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri1.2%
19Lance StrollAston Martin0.7%
20Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo0.4%
21Nicholas LatifiWilliams0.0%
22Nico HulkenbergAston Martin0.0%
A look at the percentage of driver-related content that Motorsport Broadcasting attributed to each driver. Note: Motorsport Broadcasting has counted all Nyck de Vries’s interviews as Williams for the purpose of this analysis.

Like Sainz, Perez received inferior treatment compared to his championship challenging team mate, with Sky opting to feature Perez at his home race in Mexico along with a segment off-site earlier in the season in Canada following his Monaco victory.

Outside of the leading six drivers, Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel was best of the rest ahead of another veteran in Fernando Alonso, the two drivers beating their younger team mates.

The difference between Vettel and team mate Lance Stroll was far more pronounced than the duel at Alpine, the difference between the two drivers the third biggest in the field. Sky featured Vettel in 5.2% of driver content compared to 0.7% for Stroll.

At the other end of the leader board, Williams driver Nicholas Latifi did not feature in a single interview during Sky’s pre-sessions build-ups in 2022.

A surprising entry down also at the bottom is Valtteri Bottas, with both Alfa Romeo drivers rarely featured. If it was not for Zhou Guanyu’s crash at the British Grand Prix, which Sky followed up with an extended segment at the next round in Austria, it is likely Zhou would have joined Bottas at the back.

Out of all the content last season that Motorsport Broadcasting attributed to a given team member (excluding drivers), Red Bull boss Horner featured in a whopping 33.7% of it, almost double his nearest rival. Horner featured more in Sky’s build-ups than 19 of the 20 drivers during 2022.

PositionPersonTeamPercentage of content featured in during 2022
1Christian HornerRed Bull33.7%
2Toto WolffMercedes18.2%
3Guenther SteinerHaas7.9%
4Mattia BinottoFerrari7.7%
5Andreas SeidlMcLaren6.8%
6Felipe DrugovichAston Martin4.3%
7Otmar SzafnauerAlpine3.8%
8Hannah SchmitzRed Bull2.9%
9Zak BrownMcLaren2.8%
A look at the percentage of team personnel related content that Motorsport Broadcasting attributed to each team member. Note: As Felipe Drugovich was in Aston Martin gear during his interviews, Motorsport Broadcasting has classified Drugovich as a member of the Aston Martin team for the purpose of this analysis.

In comparison, Sky aired 18.2% and 7.7% of team content related to Mercedes lead Toto Wolff and then-Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto. Pipping Binotto into third was someone who has risen in popularity thanks to Netflix’s Drive to Survive: Haas boss Guenther Steiner.

Sky eight times more likely to feature top three teams than bottom three teams

If a large disparity between the top and bottom teams exists on track, a similar (but not as large), exists off the track as well.

Analysis from Motorsport Broadcasting suggests that Sky were eight times more likely to feature the top teams compared to the bottom teams during the 2022 season. Again, this largely consists of material pre-prepared by the production team, such as an extended interview off site.

But all the interviews add up, showing that it is much easier for fans to get to know and understand the livelihoods of the personnel at the front of the field compared to the rear, even with hours of air time to fill across a season.

Red Bull and Mercedes led the way from a team perspective, this metric encompassing the drivers and key team personnel, such as team principals and technical directors.

The Milton Keynes based outfit led their Brackley rivals by just under a percentage point, with Red Bull on 21.8% and the Silver Arrows on 20.9%. Sainz’s weak showing, combined with Binotto trailing Wolff and Horner, meant that Ferrari slipped behind their rivals, sitting on 16.6%.

PositionTeamMost talked about during……because…Percentage of content featured in during 2022
1Red BullAbu DhabiPost-Brazil fallout and one year on from Abu Dhabi 202121.8%
2MercedesBahrainPre-season interviews with both drivers20.9%
3FerrariMonacoInterview with Charles Leclerc at home Grand Prix16.6%
4McLarenFranceInterview with Daniel Ricciardo addressing rumours about his future13.2%
5AlpineHungarySpecial grid walk and one year on from Ocon’s Hungary 2021 victory10.2%
6Aston MartinAbu DhabiFeature reflecting on Sebastian Vettel’s career5.6%
7HaasSaudi ArabiaInterviews following good result in season opener5.2%
8WilliamsBrazilSky Pad track guide with Alex Albon3.2%
9AlphaTauriJapanInterview with Pierre Gasly following 2023 announcement2.0%
10Alfa RomeoAustriaInterview with Zhou Guanyu following Silverstone accident1.4%
A look at the percentage of team related content that Motorsport Broadcasting attributed to each team.

Red Bull featured in Sky’s offering in all but one round. Sky barely featured them during their British Grand Prix build-up coverage, an indirect result of the Silverstone round airing live on free-to-air television on Channel 4.

Sky focussed on Mercedes from the outset, the broadcaster filming pre-season segments with both drivers, while an extended feature in Australia sought to understand the team’s struggles in more detail. Up until Abu Dhabi were Mercedes the team that Sky had focused on the most throughout 2022.

But while the top three teams equated for 59.3% of air time when focusing on teams only, the bottom three teams made up just 6.9% of the share.

It is a massive difference, considering the swathe of air time that Sky has on offer through each of the 22 race weekends.

To put the percentages into time perspective, Motorsport Broadcasting associated 10 minutes of content to Alfa Romeo compared with 2 hours and 40 minutes of content to Red Bull. The gulf between the two would likely be even larger if the analysis covered general paddock discussion between Sky’s pool of analysts.

The story of Sky’s coverage offering evolved as the season progressed. Ferrari’s presence halved in the second half of the season, while Aston Martin were three times more likely to feature later in the season compared to the beginning.

McLaren have historically been popular with British F1 fans, and 2022 was no exception. In addition, the Daniel Ricciardo rumours that swirled round the team meant they received a disproportionate amount of air time on Sky during their build-up programming last year.

The Woking outfit earned 6.8% of the points on offer in 2022, but Sky showed the team for 13.2% of the available air time that Motorsport Broadcasting attributed to teams, the biggest positive difference for a single squad.

The ‘non-team’ angle to Sky’s offering revealed

One aspect not covered until this point are those who do not work for a specific team, yet played a significant role in Sky’s Formula 1 coverage in 2022. Enter Stefano Domenicali, Felipe Massa, and James Corden.

Domenicali became F1 CEO in 2020, and has since regularly appeared on Sky to discuss the latest political events. Off the back of events at the end of 2021, Sky sat down with Domenicali at the season opener in Bahrain, the segment taking up a portion of their qualifying build-up.

Combining this feature with various grid and paddock interviews meant that Sky featured Domenicali in their build-ups more than 8 drivers, and more than all but two team principals.

Working for F1 in an official capacity as part of their digital team meant that Sky interviewed Massa during six separate race weekends. Massa was one of many ex F1 drivers featured last year, a list that included names such as Emerson Fittipaldi (encompassing a special Lotus 72 feature), Sir Jackie Stewart, Jean Alesi, and Flavio Briatore.

During the 2022 season, Sky spent as much time interviewing Aston Martin personnel as they did speaking to celebrities in the paddock or on the grid. Sky interviewed at least 45 celebrities, with James Corden and Tom Brady leading the way thanks to their contribution to Sky’s Miami Grand Prix coverage.

Impressionist Conor Moore rounded out the top three, Moore playing his part in one of the best segments of the year on Sky, Moore doing his best impression of Carlos Sainz on the Sky Pad, before the real Sainz interrupted during their US Grand Prix offering.

RaceTeams FeaturedTeams Not Featured
Abu Dhabi46
A look at how the teams featured in each build-up session on Sky during 2022. Note: Sky reduced their coverage of the Italian Grand Prix due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Miami, Britain, and Austin led the way from a celebrity perspective, while fans yearning for a celebrity free zone got their wish on six occasions during 2022, with no celebrities in sight in Imola, Azerbaijan, France, Hungary, Italy, or Japan.

The inaugural Miami race was a major outlier for Sky, with only six drivers getting any attention during the qualifying and race build-up. The broadcaster opted to give fans a behind the scenes look at the event, with segments at the Beach Club, a guide to the city and celebrity interviews prioritised.

In comparison, Sky featured all ten teams and 15 of the 20 drivers in both Singapore and Brazil, aided by a rain delay and a Sprint weekend respectively. Kevin Magnussen’s shock pole position in Brazil for Haas helped give the broadcaster a different angle later in the season.

Where are we now?

The analysis from Motorsport Broadcasting shows a clear gulf between the top and bottom teams during 2022.

Last season, Sky aired at most Grand Prix around 150 minutes of build-up across their qualifying and race day shows, a vast increase on what free-to-air broadcasters offered prior to 2012 when Sky came into the fold.

While the jump is great for fans, what is not clear is whether the added exposure has led to a more equitable balance across the grid. The analysis would suggest that this has not happened, at least a decade on since Sky began airing F1.

In other news, Paul di Resta and Johnny Herbert will not be part of Sky’s line-up for the upcoming 2023 season. In a statement to Mirror Sport, the broadcaster confirmed that the remainder of their 2022 talent pool would remain with them for 2023.

Over 22 races, around 17 hours of feature-based content aired, encompassing grid walk interviews, Sky Pad driver segments and off-site interviews, during Sky’s build-up coverage.

The coronavirus pandemic has limited the possibilities for Sky in recent years, but the wider paddock was back to a near-normal situation in 2022.

Sky aired many features covering F1, both past and present, but did not cover the British contingent in either F2, F3 or the W Series, such as rising F3 star Oliver Bearman, despite having the broadcasting rights to all three series (it is possible that segments aired on The F1 Show, outside of the scope of this analysis).

One could argue that with 22 races now on the F1 calendar, there is no excuse not to feature every F1 driver in-depth during their race day programming.

As nice as it was to hear from Leclerc last season, hearing from the same driver during the track parade, in the paddock, on the grid and then in pit lane immediately before lights out becomes repetitive.

Mixing up the voices we hear on air would be no bad thing, but broadcasters would rightly say that teams at the front of the field bring the casual fan to their programming. A segment with Leclerc an hour before lights out is likely to bring more viewers than, for example, a segment with Stroll at the other end of the pit lane.

There is no denying though that, unless an incident occurs at the tail end of the field that requires follow-up analysis, they are for the most part neglected and pushed to the side.

Arguably, from a broadcasting perspective, the teams at the back of the grid would lose the most should an 11th team join F1.

The broadcasters airing F1 would still focus on the front, but anyone from the midfield downwards would find themselves increasingly squeezed if a new outfit joined the grid, unless they began to progress to the front.

For now, ten teams and twenty drivers enter the fight, both on the track and off it, heading into the 2023 season.

If you enjoyed this article, consider contributing to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal. If you wish to reproduce the contents of this article in any form, please contact Motorsport Broadcasting in the first instance.