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.
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.”
It is a perennial question that comes around every so often in Formula 1 circles, both within the paddock and within the fanbase.
‘When will F1 finally break America?’ F1 has tried multiple times in the past to cut through to the wider American population, but with limited success.
Now, the question is changing. ‘Is F1 finally breaking America?’ With TV audiences on the slide, the job for F1 is increasingly difficult, but we look at how well F1 is succeeding…
A history lesson…
Over the past 30 years, multiple different venues in America have hosted F1 races, whilst many cities, such as New Jersey, have tried, and failed, to enter the arena.
After stints in Las Vegas, Phoenix, Watkins Glen, amongst others, Formula 1 returned to America in 2000 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
F1’s stint at Indy lasted eight years, the circuit playing host to the infamous race in 2005 which saw only 6 cars start, a race which arguably led to F1’s Indy spell ending.
Austin has hosted the US Grand Prix since 2012, minus 2020 due to the pandemic, and next year sees the arrival of Miami to the Grand Prix calendar.
Despite F1’s flirtation with the US, only three drivers have competed in F1 since 1990 with limited success: Michael Andretti in 1993, Scott Speed in 2006 and 2007, and Alex Rossi in 2015. And, well, the less said about the attempted US F1 team, the better…
On the broadcasting front, the championship has moved around different broadcasters in recent years, moving from Speed to NBC, and now ESPN.
Will Buxton, Leigh Diffey, Steve Matchett and David Hobbs led the broadcasting team on NBC, but the move from NBC to ESPN for 2018 saw the line-up disbanded, ESPN instead opting to simulcast Sky’s UK coverage.
Although fans reacted negatively to the removal of the NBC line-up, the move to ESPN did lead to two benefits, but not without their hurdles.
Fans in the US were able to access F1’s over-the-top service from launch whilst ESPN, from race two onwards, aired commercial free coverage of F1. The commercial free move came only after the network faced a barrage of criticism following the opening round in Australia.
Around the same period at the start of 2017, US media giant Liberty Media acquired the sport from Bernie Ecclestone and private equity fund CVC.
Under Liberty, F1 has made tremendous strides on social media to reach new audiences, including commissioning Netflix to produce a documentary series. Entitled Drive to Survive, the series has been a hit with fans.
Drive to Survive’s popularity has led to some claiming that F1 is reaching new audiences in the US. But, is this really the case, and does the publicly available data back up the claim?
…what the data shows…
Motorsport Broadcasting has analysed four years’ worth of television audience data, available publicly via Showbuzz Daily to get an idea of the year-to-year trends.
The industry website publishes audience data for key sporting events each weekend, both total people and those aged within the 18 to 49 demographic, pertinent given F1’s desire to attract younger audiences.
In 2017, the last year of F1’s contract with NBC, four races aired on NBC’s main broadcast outlet, with the other races airing on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) or NBC’s business news channel CNBC.
An average of 645,000 viewers watched 16 of the 20 races in 2017. The figure is slightly lower than suggested, as it excludes Australia, China, Malaysia, and Japan, which aired in the early hours for US fans.
In addition, the average drops further when removing the four races that aired on NBC. Excluding those four races drags the figure down to 483,000 viewers, giving us a better baseline to work with.
Three of the four races that aired on NBC in 2017 averaged over 1 million viewers, hence the discrepancy between the two averages. The four NBC races did little to boost F1’s regular NBCSN and CNBC programming over the course of the 2017 season.
The averages include NBC’s wrap-around content, consisting of around 30 minutes of build-up and some post-race reaction, as well as commercial breaks during the races.
Fast forward to 2020, and none of the 17 races aired on broadcast television in the US, owing to the pandemic affected schedule. Instead, every race aired live via ESPN or ESPN2.
An average of 603,000 viewers watched the 2020 action, this figure for the race segment only, from F1’s 5-minute introduction through to the initial post-race analysis.
Viewing figures for the 30-minute segment immediately before the race are unavailable, but including that segment is likely to push the average closer to 550,000 viewers, which is still an increase on the NBCSN/CNBC only figure from 2017.
F1’s growth in the States pre-dates 2017, starting as early as 2013, as reported by Motorsport Broadcasting at the time. Early data from 2021 suggests that the upward trajectory is likely to continue.
ESPN says that an average of 906,000 viewers watched the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, the 6th largest cable audience on record and the biggest F1 audience since the 2019 Canadian Grand Prix, which aired on broadcast network ABC.
18 to 49 audience
From a demographic stand-point, an average of 196,000 viewers aged between 18 and 49 watched each F1 race in 2017, but this figure drops to 142,000 viewers when removing the four races that aired on NBC.
In 2020, an average of 218,000 viewers watched the action, this metric likely dropping to around 190,000 viewers when accounting for 30-minutes of build-up to bring it equal with NBC’s 2017 offering.
Since 2017, F1 has attracted a younger audience in the US. Around 30% of F1’s audience in 2017 were within the coveted 18 to 49 demographic. The skew has since increased over time to around 36%, although analysis shows that the 2020 skew was slightly lower than 2019.
Nevertheless, 2021 has started brightly in this area: 46% of the Emilia Romagna audience were aged between 18 and 49, equating to 416,000 viewers, a massive number for the sport in the US.
From a wider motor racing perspective, NASCAR remains comfortably on top of both F1 and IndyCar, but F1 skews considerably younger than both commodities, making it a more attractive proposition to advertisers.
During the same weekend as Emilia Romagna, a NASCAR race averaged 3.31 million viewers on Fox, but only 650,000 of those were within the crucial 18 to 49 demo, a skew of just 20%.
In contrast, IndyCar brought in 6,000 more viewers than F1, but 159,000 fewer viewers in the 18 to 49 demographic.
…still small pickings in the grand scheme of things
In the wider context, an average audience of just under 1 million viewers for F1 in a country with over 320 million people feels like very slim pickings.
However, Formula 1 is fighting an uphill battle in the US from the outset, with unfriendly time slots throughout the season, especially compared to IndyCar and NASCAR.
Most races start at 06:00 PST / 09:00 ET, meaning that F1 is relying on fans either watching live during their breakfast or catch-up later to engage fully in the sport.
The alternative for F1 would be to move European races to later in the afternoon, and ensure that the likes of Australia, Japan and China start early in the morning.
Both moves would likely result in higher audiences in the Americas and Europe, but lower audiences in Asia and Oceania, making it impossible for F1 to please everyone in this scenario.
In addition, television audiences in America are rapidly declining, and F1’s increases (slim or otherwise) on the traditional platforms should be considered even better in that context.
While TV audiences initially rose as COVID hit in March 2020, figures soon went back into reverse and, as Hollywood Reporter put it, the gains “couldn’t reverse larger, systemic declines on ad-supported networks.”
For F1, and many other sports, traditional TV is only part of the picture, with fans able to easily access F1’s over-the-top platform and watch the live action, cutting the cord.
Or, alternatively, fans can watch bite sized highlights on F1’s YouTube channel, something that has only been available during the past few years.
Only F1 knows the true scale of how many fans in America are accessing this content, as F1 does not release these figures publicly.
But, given that F1 has seen slight increases via the traditional, yet declining, linear platforms, it therefore is an accurate statement to say that F1’s popularity in the US has increased, and more so with younger audiences.
With two more series of Drive to Survive on the horizon in the pipeline1, and a new race in Miami, things will only improve further for F1 stateside, as F1 begins to take off in the US.
Can F1 break through the glass ceiling and cut into the mainstream conversation in America? Only time will tell…
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.
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.
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.