Over 2 million viewers watch F1’s first Sprint in UK

F1’s new look format, trialled over the British Grand Prix weekend, helped audience figures improve in the UK, consolidated data released by BARB suggests.

The Silverstone weekend was Channel 4’s only live action of the season, the broadcaster sharing live coverage with Sky Sports.

The consolidated data accounts for viewers who watched within seven days of the original transmission.

New format draws the viewers…

Usually, Friday plays host to two practice sessions.

However, only one practice session took place on Friday at Silverstone, with the traditional three-part qualifying session moving to Friday evening.

According to industry website Thinkbox, which publishes BARB consolidated data, 1.08 million viewers watched the qualifying session on Channel 4 from 17:00 to 19:30.

An additional 530,000 viewers watched on Sky Sports F1, across a shorter time slot from 17:25 to 19:30. A caveat here that Sky’s figure includes those that watched on devices, whereas Channel 4’s figure is for the TV set only.

Nevertheless, with a combined audience of 1.6 million viewers, the British Grand Prix marked F1’s highest UK audience on a Friday since at least 2003, if not earlier. Back then, ITV aired highlights of Friday qualifying in a late-night slot.

On Saturday, a combined audience of just over 2 million viewers watched Channel 4’s and Sky’s Sprint programming, including build-up and post-session analysis.

1.40 million watched the Sprint across all devices on Channel 4 from 15:45 to 17:40, with a further 610,000 viewers opting for Sky’s programming across a slightly longer time slot.

The figures are higher than what a normal three-part qualifying session would have achieved in its usual Saturday slot.

Initial analysis from Motorsport Broadcasting suggests that F1 may have recorded its highest Saturday audience for the British Grand Prix since 2013.

Race day saw an audience of around 3.6 million viewers watch Channel 4’s and Sky’s main programming, an average that includes the extended red flag period, but excludes the extended wraparound offering.

2.34 million viewers watched on Channel 4 from 14:26 to 17:07, with 1.21 million viewers watching on Sky Sports F1 from 14:53 to 17:35.

Year-on-year, Sky’s race audience increased by 15%, with Channel 4’s decreasing by around 8.5%, reflecting the positive trajectory Sky’s F1 audience figures continue to take.

Both broadcasters benefited from the Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen collision, with 2 million viewers sticking around for the post-race programming until 18:30.

…what this means…

Although peak audiences are unavailable, we can use the average audience figures already in the public domain, along with programme lengths, to draw some conclusions.

Using the available data, it is likely that Friday’s qualifying session peaked with 2 million viewers, Saturday’s Sprint session with 3 million viewers, and Sunday’s race with 4.5 million viewers.

Having the weekend live on free-to-air television undoubtedly helps the audience figures, but even for Sky, the British qualifying session was their highest ever F1 audience for a Friday – including the plethora of evening practice sessions where they were the exclusive broadcaster.

In some ways, that is unsurprising, but it shows that fans tuned into the idea of having a meaningful session take place on a Friday evening.

Fans did not dismiss Friday qualifying, and instead felt that it was important part of the F1 weekend, and important enough to tune in to.

Whether the Sprint figures were higher than a typical Saturday because of the novelty of it remains unknown, and only something we will know when audience data for the Italian Grand Prix comes in next month.

But, arguably, the events of the Sprint contributed to what followed on Sunday from a sporting perspective.

Speaking to selected media, including The Race, on a conference call, F1’s CEO Stefano Domenicali described the response to the Sprint as “really positive”.

“After the first sprint event at Silverstone, the response that we have from the drivers, from the teams, the media, has been really positive, and also for the promoter,” said Domenicali, as quoted by The Race.

“The outcome of the first event has been dramatically positive. It’s great because that brought attention, interest on TV, and also partners. We have already seen the financial interest be positive.”

The audience data for the weekend, which F1 is no doubt digesting, backs up Domenicali’s statement.

…as W Series beats Formula E

But, Formula 1 was not the only beneficiary of the revised schedule.

The W Series race normally takes place after F1’s qualifying session. For Britain, the race remained on the Saturday, but aired in between F1’s single practice session, and before the Sprint.

An impressive average of 533,000 viewers watched on Channel 4 from 13:05 to 14:17, a figure which excludes those who watched on other devices.

Now in its second season, the all-female championship, retained around 66% of the F1 practice audience. The F1 session, which began at 12:00 UK time, averaged around 800,000 viewers across Channel 4 and Sky.

A week after the Grand Prix, Formula E’s London outing aired live on Channel 4 across the weekend of July 24th and 25th with a double header event.

The electric series reached a high of 382,000 viewers from 13:51 to 15:12 for its second race of the weekend, again excluding the ‘other device’ watchers.

The audience figures demonstrate how W Series benefited from being on the same card as Formula 1, whereas Formula E’s events are largely standalone with no wrap-around support.

W Series also benefited from added exposure through Channel 4’s live F1 coverage, the only weekend of the year that the free-to-air broadcaster covers F1 live.

Moving forward, W Series will not have the luxury of an F1 lead-in on the same channel.

In addition, Formula E faced the opening weekend of the Olympics across the BBC, which took attention away from the E-Prix. In that context, the Formula E figure is good given the lack of support the series has received from free-to-air stations in recent years.

Most importantly, The Race notes that Formula E “surpassed the expectations of the C4 management team,” which bodes well for a future rights deal between the two parties.

Motorsport Broadcasting will publish a full analytical piece looking at the UK F1 audience picture at the half way stage of the 2021 season shortly.

Contribute 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.

Channel 4 to air Formula E’s return to London

Channel 4 will air live coverage of Formula E’s return to London later in July, series organisers have confirmed.

It will be the first time that the free-to-air broadcaster has aired Formula E live. As thus, Formula E has now aired on all four of the main free-to-air outlets in the UK, following in the footsteps of the BBC, ITV and Channel 5.

Formula E says that Channel 4 will air ‘bespoke programmes’ presented by Vernon Kay. Produced by North One, the trio of Nicki Shields, Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti join Kay from the ExCeL London.

The move comes as neither the BBC or Eurosport will be airing the London races live on any of their television channels due to the Olympics from Tokyo.

However, neither Quest or BBC Two are options for Formula E over the London weekend, as Quest are airing live British Superbikes coverage from Brands Hatch, whilst BBC Two are covering cricket’s new experiment called The Hundred.

Without their deal with Channel 4, Formula E would be left without a live linear TV home for their biggest race from a UK perspective. Channel 4’s deal only covers the race, and not practice or qualifying, and is for the London round only.

Sam Bird, who races for Jaguar and currently leads the championship, said “It is great news for Formula E to be shown live on Channel 4 for such a key race on the world championship calendar.”

Channel 4’s Formula E schedule
Saturday 24th July
14:00 to 16:30 – Race 1
=> 14:00 – Build-Up
=> 14:30 – Race
=> 16:00 – Reaction

Sunday 25th July
13:30 to 15:30 – Race 2
=> 13:30 – Build-Up
=> 13:40 – Race
=> 15:00– Reaction

“This is the first time in five years we’ve raced in London – the first time in 17 years for Jaguar – and terrestrial TV plays a key role to put our sport into the homes across the UK at a milestone moment.”

Formula E’s chief media officer Aarti Dabas added “We are pleased to add Channel 4 to our ever-growing line-up of media partners. UK is a key market for Formula E’s ecosystem of teams, manufacturers, partners and drivers.”

“More importantly we wanted to provide our growing UK fanbase and potential new fans with easy access to watch and engage with the live coverage of their home races.”

“Channel 4 is one of UK’s most progressive free-to-air channels and this partnership for the London races provides both Formula E and Channel 4 to engage with progressive motorsports fans and new audiences.”

A look into the future?

The move by Formula E to partner with Channel 4 is likely to increase suggestions that Channel 4 is front runner to air the series for the 2021-22 season, as the existing BBC and Eurosport rights agreements expire at the end of this season.

While the BBC has given Formula E a free-to-air home over the past few years, it is clear that the partnership has not matured in the way that Formula E had hoped.

Over the past few years, the BBC has aired several Formula E races live on BBC Two, the last being the Rome E-Prix back in April. But this has happened inconsistently, with the corporation not committing to more races on linear television.

Formula E in the UK – at a glance
2014-15 – ITV
2015-16 – ITV
2016-17 – Channel 5
2017-18 – Channel 5, Eurosport
2018-19 – BBC, BT Sport, Eurosport, Quest
2019-20 – BBC, Eurosport, Quest
2020-21 – BBC, Eurosport, Quest
2020-21 [London only] – BBC, Channel 4, Eurosport

Elsewhere in the sporting spectrum, the British Olympic athletics trials did not air on the BBC last month after the broadcaster refused to pay for the rights or air it on their linear channels, leading to UK Athletics streaming the action on their own platforms to a much smaller audience.

The fact of the matter is, unless you are a tier 1 sport (which Formula E acknowledges that they are not), then it is highly unlikely that the BBC are willing to air the sport in question on BBC One or BBC Two, unless there is strong justification to do so.

Dabas’s comments to Motorsport Broadcasting last week, combined with the one-off Channel 4 deal, would suggest that, unless the situation changes, Formula E does not have a long-term future on the BBC.

For now, fans can watch live coverage of the London E-Prix weekend on Channel 4, as well as the BBC’s, Eurosport’s and Formula E’s digital platforms.

Contribute 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.

W Series to remain live on Channel 4 for 2021 season

The W Series will remain live to UK fans on Channel 4 for the upcoming 2021 season.

Series organisers officially confirmed the news on Saturday evening (May 22nd) in a vignette promoting the new season on their Twitter feed.

Their inaugural season in 2019 saw the championship supporting DTM, with Jamie Chadwick winning the series in a tense final race at Brands Hatch.

After the COVID-19 pandemic halted plans for 2020, this season the series will support Formula 1 at all eight rounds.

The tie up prompted suggestions that the series may air exclusively on Sky Sports F1 for UK fans, given their existing F1 commitments.

However, organisers have confirmed that W Series will remain free-to-air on Channel 4, with every qualifying session and race airing live via the broadcaster.

For fans overseas, details around F1’s over-the-top platform will be confirmed in due course.

Lee McKenzie, David Coulthard and Ted Kravitz remain part of their broadcast team for the 2021 season and, as originally announced before the pandemic hit, Alex Jacques will join them as lead commentator.

As is currently the case for Channel 4’s F1 offering, Billy Monger joins Coulthard and Jacques in the commentary box.

The W Series presentation team for the 2021 season. Copyright: W Series.

Anna Woolhouse, who is Sky’s lead boxing presenter and has previously presented the F1 Midweek Report for Sky, joins the team as presenter alongside McKenzie.

In addition, Amy Reynolds, who has been part of the MotoGP World Feed team for the past six years, joins as pit lane reporter, whilst W Series driver from 2019, Naomi Schiff completes the line-up.

In a separate announcement, production company Whisper have confirmed that they will continue to produce the W Series broadcast.

Catherine Bond Muir, W Series’ CEO, said “I am delighted that W Series’ founding broadcast partner, Channel 4, has reinforced its commitment to showcasing women’s sport and our talented racing drivers.”

“Live free-to-air motorsport coverage is rare, but our partnership with Channel 4 is a key part of W Series’ plan to create more visible role models to inspire girls and women to be a part of motorsport, whether that is on track, on screen or behind the scenes, and the expertise and insight provided by our brilliant commentary team will be instrumental to our efforts,” Bond Muir believes.

Louisa Compton, Channel 4’s Head of News, Current and Affairs and Sport, added “W Series aligns brilliantly with Channel 4 – it’s exciting, bold and breaking down barriers.”

“I’m sure viewers will relish the opportunity to watch this exciting season of top motorsport as it unfolds on Channel 4.”

Last updated on May 26th.

Contribute 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.

Channel 4 grabs ‘And We Go Green’ rights

Channel 4 will show a new feature-length documentary surrounding the electric Formula E series, championship organisers have confirmed today.

Directed by Fisher Stevens and Malcolm Venville and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, ‘And We Go Green’ gives viewers a behind the scenes look at 2017-18 season.

The documentary first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last May, and will get its inaugural UK showing on Channel 4 on Tuesday 2nd June from 00:05 to 01:50. Following transmission, the film will be available on demand via All 4 for the next twelve months.

The film primarily follows five of Formula E’s leading racers: Sam Bird, Lucas di Grassi, Andre Lotterer, Nelson Piquet Jr, and eventual champion Jean-Eric Vergne.

Formula E’s founder and chairman Alejandro Agag, who also appears in the film, said: “The documentary encapsulates the true mission and purpose of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, to show how competition drives technological development and how the excitement of sport can have a meaningful social impact and alter perceptions of electric vehicles.

“This notion is how the title And We Go Green came about. Not only does it signal the start of our races, but it also indicates an urgent need to put the brakes on devastating and irreparable damage already caused by fossil fuels.”

“I’m proud to have worked with such great talent and a production team who share the same common values around sustainability and making a positive impact in the fight against climate change.”


Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal

How W Series has embedded itself into the DTM production setup

Setting up a new motor racing championship is inherently difficult. From the cars, to the drivers, to the media, to the television production and beyond, the amount of effort involved means that inevitably, not everything will go according to plan.

Last weekend, the inaugural W Series season ended at Brands Hatch, with Jamie Chadwick winning the championship trophy and a cool $500,000 to go with it.

Off track, how well has the series embedded itself into the DTM paddock? Motorsport Broadcasting roamed Brands Hatch to find out…

The existing DTM setup
On a logistical level, W Series slotted into the gap left by the FIA Formula Three Championship as the leading support series on the DTM bill, taking place at six of DTM’s nine race weekends.

DTM is the German equivalent of the British Touring Car Championship, except unlike the BTCC, the DTM championship travels around Europe, with four of this year’s nine race weekends taking place outside of Germany.

Now in its twentieth season, the DTM production setup features four different entities.

  • TV Skyline – outside broadcaster
  • DTM Productions / ITR – production and editorial
  • Wige – graphics and timing
  • Riedel – RF on-board cameras and team radio

W Series could have taken the existing DTM facilities, without additional wrap-around coverage.

In this scenario, broadcasters would have had to add their own bespoke content if they wanted additional colour – making W Series less valuable to prospective broadcasters. Producing a plain World Feed for W Series makes little sense.

The aim of W Series is to increase women participation in motor sport and, to get the message out, organisers needed a high-quality television product in place. That is not to say that the DTM product is not good, but the ambitions of both are different.

How well has the arrangement worked?
W Series organisers brought in Whisper and Timeline to work on the championship, playing the same roles as DTM Productions and TV Skyline respectively. The additions mean that space in the television compound is tighter than ever, but manageable nevertheless.

The role of Whisper and Timeline covers all wrap-around content, but does not cover the race itself, which remains in the control of DTM’s own providers. During W Series’ first season, Whisper and Timeline produced a live programme for broadcasters to air.

2019 W Series Paddock Hill Bend.jpg
One of the W Series drivers tackle Paddock Hill bend during Saturday’s second practice session.

Speaking to me during the final W Series race of the inaugural season, Whisper’s Senior Producer Harry Allen is happy with how the relationship between all parties has unfolded.

“As Formula E have found out, setting up a race from scratch and directing the whole race yourself is a pretty massive undertaking, and I think the relationship with DTM is a really neat, tidy and high-quality way of dealing with that situation,” Allen told me.

“We could have attempted to go our own way and have six races set-up all by us, all of the circuit infrastructure, everything, but that’s a massive expense,” Allen added.

“Being able to be a support series on DTM, but then present that on Channel 4 and round the world as a W Series programme is great. We make sure that we mention DTM, we don’t try to hide that we’re operating on a DTM weekend.”

Whisper’s in-house graphics arm Chapter 3 Graphics designed the W Series graphic suite, which fans saw during the wrap-around coverage. However, communication was required between Whisper and Wige (DTM’s graphics provider), to ensure that the race graphics aligned with the outer offering.

Allen, who has worked with the BBC in the past on their sports offering, points this out as one of the successes from his perspective.

“We designed the graphics pack which they’ve [Wige] integrated into their system. It all works so that when we come on-air with our graphics, they look the same as their graphics,” he said.

“It’s been pretty seamless with all the partners. DTM, ITR, TV Skyline, Wige, Riedel, Timeline, and our guys. It’s a massive operation, and it’s all worked pretty well I think, we haven’t had any major issues.”

What the team are producing
For Brands Hatch on race day, alongside the qualifying feed, Whisper produced a 195-minute World Feed from 14:15 to 17:30. That might confuse some readers given that Channel 4 were on-air from 14:30 to 16:30.

Although the ‘core’ World Feed is for those two hours, beforehand a variety of features are played out from 14:15 to 14:30, for any broadcasters that have opted to do something different (for example: a studio-based show with their own presenters).

Similarly, all the post-race interviews are played out following the conclusion of the main W Series programme for broadcasters that wish to use them later. The structure of the pre-race build-up allowed worldwide broadcasters to opt-in to the show at two different junctions, giving them flexibility from a scheduling perspective.

2019 W Series Ted Kravitz.jpg
Ted Kravitz in full flow during the start of the pre-race Notebook, recorded on Saturday evening.

In addition, the pre-race paddock segments air on a slight tape-delay. Due to the nature of the support series, cars are already making their way to the grid by the time the show begins to air, making it more logical to pre-record the paddock segments before the drivers’ get into their machinery.

Lee McKenzie steered both the pre and post-race build-up, with David Coulthard and Ted Kravitz providing additional input. Kravitz’s Notebook also played a key role in W Series’ social media output.

The style of Kravitz’s Notebook is like his F1 content, Kravitz wrapping up the fortunes of each of the 20 drivers, along with any other snippets that Kravitz has picked up throughout the race weekend. I watched on as Kravitz filmed the pre-race Notebook on Saturday evening, Kravitz beginning the Notebook from Paddock Hill bend (above) before wandering through to the W Village, all timed to near perfection.

On top of the live content and the Notebook, Timeline and Whisper also cut two separate highlights programmes off-site at Timeline’s base in Ealing: one for global broadcasters, and another specifically for US broadcast partners NBC, who air W Series highlights on Wednesday’s on NBCSN.

“We deliver that to NBC by 5pm on a Monday (12pm in US),” Allen tells me. “NBC then have five hours of opportunity to watch it and give feedback, and then on Tuesday we make any changes and then deliver the final product for them.”

“That’s how we service NBC, who are obviously a huge client for W Series.”

W Series’ is Allen’s first motor racing role but that, he says, is a deliberate move from Whisper. “The reason why I am producing this is because one of the key things we’re trying to do is get W Series to a new audience,” he says.

“The production team around us, these guys go to Formula 1 every race [for Channel 4]. I’m trying to create something that is accessible to a different audience, and everyone around me is keeping me in check making sure we hit the motor sport audience. If there’s anything, any time that is not correct then we’ll meet in the middle!”

Cottingham’s “most incredible” journey
Before Hockenheim, Claire Cottingham was a name unfamiliar to motor racing fans worldwide. Now, just over three months later, Cottingham has commentated on all six races of W Series’ first season.

Speaking to me prior to the Brands Hatch season finale, Cottingham reveals her journey, from getting the initial phone call to now.

“Before they gave me the gig, I had to go in and do a test commentary. I went in to commentate on a race, with one of the guys from Whisper,” Cottingham tells me.

“It was just to see how it flowed and things like that. It was an agonising couple of days waiting, and then I got the phone call. It was one of those surreal, unbelievable moments in life!”

2019 W Series Jamie Chadwick.jpg
Champion Jamie Chadwick being interviewed by presenters Lee McKenzie and David Coulthard post-race.

“I think it’s about having the right person. It’s not my place to say ‘should it be female’ or whatever. It’s worked out that they picked somebody who knew motor sport, has been in motor sport, and that’s great.”

“It should always be the right person to fit the job, and that’s what they did, they believed I was the right person for the job. Whisper have been brilliant to get the right people in the right places and to give women more of a presence in motor sport. When I got the phone call, I thought ‘I’m in on this mission!’ It’s been the most incredible journey so far,” Cottingham added.

Cottingham, who has previously commentated on Formula Renault 3.5 and Formula Renault Eurocup for BT Sport, spoke about the challenges of working on a new championship, and the hurdles it brings.

“Because it’s a new series, much like when Formula E came out, everyone was learning the technology and learning the racing, it’s very similar,” she says.

“We’ve all learnt from Hockenheim to now, the drivers, the production team, everybody. We’ve all grown with it and I think that’s what’s been really fun, to be part of that family and moving it forward.”

A successful first season for W Series
Cottingham’s commentary can be heard worldwide, including in the UK on Channel 4. Allen is happy with how W Series has been brought to a wide audience in its inaugural, thanks to broadcasters such as Channel 4 backing the series.

“I think we’ve done really well, because we’ve brought a start-up racing series to a pretty wide audience, and I think people know about it,” Allen notes.

“When I speak to my friends who have no interest in motor sport, they’ve heard about it, they’ve read about it in the papers, in the broadsheets, they may have even watched it on Channel 4.”

“The good thing about being on Channel 4 in the UK is that people who are interested in Formula 1 will know about the fact that we’ve got W Series coming up, because at the end of the programme they’ll trail it.”

“If you’re watching the rugby today on Channel 4, we’ve sent them a 30-second VT, which will trail our final programme, and off the back of that the presenter of the rugby will say ‘don’t forget tomorrow to tune in, 2:30 on Channel 4 for the finale on W Series.'”

“Whisper is all about the stories, characters, personalities, entertainment is everything. Sport is entertaining, but my opinion on sport is that has to be easily understandable by everyone, so if you’re sitting down with your daughter or son and they’ve never watched W Series before, they can’t think ‘that was boring’ at the end of the programme, and that’s the key.”

“What we’re doing with this is everything around the racing, even if the racing hasn’t done what you wanted it to, we’ll make sure we sell that sport to the absolute maximum and get the most emotion and entertainment out of it.”


Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal