5 key stories from the opening 2021 F1 and MotoGP weekend

The 2021 Formula One and MotoGP seasons started in fine fashion in Bahrain and Qatar respectively, with Lewis Hamilton, Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo coming out winners.

Off-track, there were plenty of broadcasting stories making the rounds, as all sides had a gem or two hidden up their sleeve.

Here are some of the key headlines from the opening leg of the 2021 season…

Filming begins on MotoGP’s new documentary series

Filming has begun on MotoGP’s new Amazon documentary series, under the working title Life at Speed.

MotoGP organisers Dorna will be hoping that the series can emulate the success of F1’s Drive to Survive series on Netflix.

As reported by The Race, Spanish production company Mediapro are behind the series, whilst Alessandro Di Renzo, who previously worked for Dorna, is directing the series for Mediapro.

Speaking to The Race, MotoGP’s head of media and content Manel Arroyo confirmed plans for the Amazon series.

“We want to create something similar to what Formula 1 have with Netflix and we are already shooting with the thought that we can have something ready in the next months,” Arroyo said.

“We can prepare something for next season. It is a new way, because audiences today are consuming sport in a new way.”

“People want to see highlights, they want to see behind the scenes, and we are trying to cover many angles. With documentaries, it takes us to new audiences.”

Over on four-wheels, filming for season 4 of Drive to Survive is well underway, the crew filming the action throughout testing and the Bahrain weekend with the likes of Mercedes.

New faces, new places

Alex Jacques was not the only new face in Channel 4’s Formula 1 line-up over the Bahrain weekend, with Lawrence Barretto also joining the team for the first time.

Barretto has increasingly appeared in front of the camera in recent years through F1’s in-house digital output, having previously worked for the BBC and Autosport’s online platforms as website writer.

Now, Barretto will share his existing F1 duties with his new Channel 4 role as on-site reporter.

Writing on Twitter, Barretto said “So excited to work with such a talented team at Channel 4 this year alongside my role F1. Appreciate the efforts from so many people to make this happen.”

As well as retaining Barretto, F1 have bolstered their digital line-up, with an array of new faces joining the team.

David Alorka joins both Barretto and Will Buxton in the paddock for 2021.

Alorka has previously produced content for Heineken as part of their relationship with F1, and has also worked with the likes of NFL, the UEFA Champions League and UFC to create engaging content.

Also joining F1 for the new season are renowned technical experts Albert Fabrega and Craig Scarborough, both of whom will be working alongside Sam Collins on F1 TV’s Tech Talk programming.

Sky F1 shakes up commentary team for practice

Fans watching Sky Sports F1’s coverage of the first practice session from Bahrain were treated to an unusual commentary line-up.

Natalie Pinkham led the commentary team, with Jenson Button and Karun Chandhok joining her.

Pinkham made history from a broadcasting perspective, as it was the first time ever that a female had led an F1 commentary line-up for a UK TV broadcaster.

The main take away for me from the commentary itself was that it felt more like a radio commentary, but for practice, that is no bad thing.

Credit as well should go to Sky for trying something different – this was an experiment that I personally would like to see repeated throughout the season.

The feedback on social media was broadly positive to the change. Writing on Twitter immediately following the session, Pinkham said “THANK YOU for all the support and lovely feedback on my debut in the comms box. Still buzzing!”

“Karun Chandhok and Jenson Button were (as ever) the perfect teammates. Normal service resumes with Crofty back in the hot seat for the rest of the weekend.”

Over on F1 TV, Rosanna Tennant led their line-up for the F1 sessions, comprising of Alex Brundle and Matt Gallagher, Tennant succeeding Jacques in the role following Jacques’ move over to Channel 4.

F1 makes significant progress towards sustainability targets

Formula 1 has made significant progress towards their sustainability targets, in part an indirect result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The series had a long-term objective to move to a remote operation, as part of their wider Strategic Plan, to ‘minimise the amount of equipment and people sent to each race’.

Speaking on Formula 1’s YouTube channel, Formula 1’s Director of Broadcast and Media Dean Locke noted that F1 executed the “multi-year project in just over 7 weeks under lockdown conditions, something we’re very proud of.”

“Going remote has allowed F1 to reduce its travelling freight by 34%. The number of travelling staff has also reduced by 37%, and we now transfer over 160 terabytes of data to Biggin Hill during each race weekend.”

F1’s Biggin Hill base now plays host to the Remote Technical Centre, which was previously transported worldwide for each race weekend.

“Acquisition of the data and media is still done at the track, but curation of those products is now done here at the Remote Technical Centre,” he says. “We have 53 operational positions, over 400 screens, thousands of computers to drive this system.”

“Formula 1 prides itself on innovation, and we feel F1’s move into remote operation is a really good example of that,” Locke added.

Channel 4 production team member tests positive for COVID-19

In the lead up to the Bahrain weekend, a member of the Channel 4 production team tested positive for COVID-19.

The positive test, first reported publicly on the Press Association’s news wires, forced the production team to go into quarantine, with new staff flown out to the Sakhir circuit as a result.

As thus, Alex Jacques made his Channel 4 commentary debut from Ealing alongside Billy Monger, with David Coulthard on location in Bahrain.

Jacques also commentated on Formula Two remotely from Ealing, with Alex Brundle alongside him, but a 75-minute drive away at F1’s Biggin Hill headquarters.

Spot anything else during the weekend worth noticing? Have your say in the comments below.

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Sky’s UK F1 audience jumps to record high as 2021 begins

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.

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Scheduling: The 2021 F1 and MotoGP season openers

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.

All F1 sessions are available to listen live via BBC’s F1 website

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.

Last updated on Friday 26th March.

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Murray Walker, 1923-2021

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.

We’ll miss you.

Sky’s UK F1 audience figures jump in second year of exclusivity

Formula 1’s viewing figures in the UK bucked the worldwide trend in 2020 and increased in volume, with Sky Sports benefiting the most, analysis conducted by Motorsport Broadcasting shows.

Viewing figures quoted below are sourced from consolidated data released by BARB. The audience figures are for those viewers who watched coverage via the TV set, either live or up to seven days after broadcast.

Although this excludes viewers who opted to watch via PC/laptop, tablet, or their smartphone, it does allow for the most accurate historical comparisons.

Comparing 2020’s audience figures with that of previous years may seem unfair given that the 2020 season took place primarily in Europe, whereas the 2019 season featured events across the globe.

However, previous analysis published by this site last October shows that the early morning flyaway races and primetime American-based races off-set each other, meaning that the 2020 data is comparable to previous years.

Sky Sports F1 reaches more viewers as figures rise…

2020 saw Sky stay on the air longer than ever before as events unfolded around them.

Their race day coverage from Bahrain lasted almost as long in length as their cricket broadcasts, after Romain Grosjean’s horrific accident stretched their offering out.

The pay-TV broadcaster stayed on air for six and a half hours, from 12:30 all the way to 19:00, including Ted Kravitz’s post-race Notebook. Six and a half hours on race day is easily a record for any UK broadcaster covering F1.

Sky’s coverage of the Bahrain week (from November 23rd to 29th) reached 3.37 million viewers on Sky Sports F1, the channel’s highest reach in eight years.

The last time the F1 channel reached such highs was in July 2012, when Sky’s free coverage of the German Grand Prix on the F1 channel reached 3.52 million viewers.

Pierre Gasly’s shock victory at Monza also reached over 3 million viewers on Sky F1, becoming the first race week to do so on the F1 channel since the 2014 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Of course, Sky have simulcast many races since then on Sky Sports Main Event, depleting the F1 channel’s overall reach, and therefore painting a fuzzy picture across years.

Nevertheless, it shows overall that Sky’s audiences have risen compared to previous years. Races in previous years have aired exclusively on Sky Sports F1 (without simulcasts), but failed to reach over 3 million viewers.

Across the whole of 2020, Sky’s F1 channel reached an average of 1.25 million viewers each week, an increase of 2.6% on the 2019 figure of 1.21 million, despite there being four fewer races.

Accounting for race weeks only, the channel reached 2.72 million viewers, a much bigger increase of 19.8% on last year’s figure of 2.27 million.

…as over one million viewers on average watch each race on Sky…

Consistency was the name of the game for Sky, as audience figures fluctuated less than usual throughout the year, helped by the championship remaining in Europe.

Note that there are some missing data points to the below figures. At most, this means that the figures below are likely 10,000 to 20,000 lower than reality, however this is not enough to make a material difference to the overall picture.

COVID did impact Sky’s race day structure in 2020. Sky scrapped plans for a marathon 130-minute build-up, the broadcaster opting to stick with their tried and tested 100-minute build-up.

On average, an audience of at least 1.22 million viewers watched each of the 17 races on Sky (excluding wrap around content), a jump of 19.1% on the 2019 average of 1.02 million viewers, and avoiding a slump in their second year of exclusivity.

For the first time since F1 moved to Sky, every race averaged over 1 million viewers on their television platforms.

Their highlight was the title deciding Turkish Grand Prix which averaged 1.44 million viewers across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event (the simulcast part of the reason the race does not feature amongst Sky F1’s highest reaches for 2020). Turkey was Sky’s highest race average since the 2018 Mexican Grand Prix.

Bahrain ties with Turkey at the top, and draws ahead when taking the race and post-race segments as a weighted average.

For Bahrain, there was no post-race segment officially recorded, but the race segment averaged 1.21 million viewers across a 4-hour duration, higher than any of the other combined race and post-race weighted averages.

The demand for content from fans during the fast and furious F1 calendar filtered through to their wrap around broadcasts.

Sky’s F1 pre-race segment averaged 347,000 viewers across 2020, an increase of around 39.7% year-on-year, this despite the loss of Martin Brundle’s grid walk owing to the pandemic.

…whilst Channel 4’s average also increases…

Channel 4’s audience increased, but not to the same level as their pay-TV partners.

The broadcaster aired a longer highlights edit in 2020 compared with 2019, with around 60 minutes of each race airing on the channel.

Their race day offering averaged 1.72 million viewers, representing a 4% rise year-on-year on the 2019 figure of around 1.65 million viewers. The exact 2019 figure is unknown, as both Mexico and Brazil failed to make Channel 4’s top 15.

The free-to-air broadcaster’s average increases to 1.77 million viewers when accounting for their live coverage of the British Grand Prix.

Like with Sky, Channel 4’s highlight was Turkey, which averaged 2.06 million viewers on its return to the F1 calendar as Lewis Hamilton sealed his 7th Drivers’ Championship.

Whilst above 2 million, Channel 4’s highlights high is below their 2019 highlight, when 2.10 million viewers watched a dramatic German Grand Prix.

Unlike Sky, which held up remarkably well after Hamilton sealed the crown, Channel 4’s highlights audience fell sharply, dropping to two season lows following Turkey. Sakhir averaged 1.22 million viewers (albeit in a later time slot), whilst Abu Dhabi brought in 1.38 million viewers one week later.

This is not surprising though: the free-to-air highlights audience has always fluctuated more depending on ongoing events, and two ‘dead rubber’ F1 races are not a draw to the free-to-air audience.

…resulting in a 10% increase year-on-year

An average of 2.98 million viewers watched Formula 1 across Channel 4 and Sky in 2020, the audience split 60:40 in Channel 4’s favour.

The average covers Channel 4’s highlights programming, plus live coverage of the race segment itself on Sky Sports (excluding the bulk of pre- and post-race content).

F1 themselves report a 10% increase year-on-year for the UK market, in-line with Motorsport Broadcasting’s analysis.

Worldwide, F1’s audience dropped 4.5% on average compared with 2019, so for the UK to buck the trend is impressive.

China and Russia saw bigger percentage growths at 43% and 71% respectively, whilst Max Verstappen’s continued impact in F1 helped audience figures in the Netherlands rise by 28%.

On one hand, it would be easy to argue that the UK rise was due to lockdown. But, if that was really the case, why did other countries audience figures not increase by a similar number?

Lockdown did help, but for the UK audience, there clearly was an added excitement of always having ‘something new’ around the corner, whether it was Mugello, Portimao, Imola, Turkey or the short Bahrain circuit, even if this is not necessarily reflected in other markets. The winner may have stayed largely the same, but the journey to the destination was not.

F1 tried to revert to their pre-COVID calendar for 2021, but events around them mean that this is unlikely to be possible. Arguably, it is disappointing that they tried to do exactly that, instead of formulating a new calendar for a new era.

Should F1 have used COVID as an opportunity to ‘reset’ their entire calendar structure or, is getting back to normal (even if it is, for F1, the same structure as before) of greater importance?

Should F1 start their season in Australia, only to then head back out east later in the year, or should races in a similar time zone be ‘clustered’ together to form one regional group, an idea that was mooted many years ago?

F1’s 2020 audience figures – for the UK at least – suggest that fans liked the consistent start times, with viewing figures remaining stable throughout as a result.

Neither Sky or Channel 4 responded to a request for comment at time of writing.

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