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.
Each race weekend, teams, drivers and riders battle for points and prizes, with the aim of reaching the top of the mountain in their respective series.
Underpinning each entity is a social media team. For the likes of Formula 1 or MotoGP, the social media team may be a genuine business unit. For smaller championships, it may be a single person running the show.
The objective in all cases remains the same: to drive engagement on their social media channels, turning casual fans into passionate fans which, hopefully for the entity in question, turns into a profit further down the line when the fan begins to purchase their products.
Motorsport Broadcasting is an independent website without big backers, and therefore relies on trackable information already in the public domain, such as the number of followers across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Whilst this may not show who has engaged with individual posts, what it does help to show is who is attracting a newer, fresher fanbase to their platform, therefore becoming more marketable to their team or stakeholders around them or, alternatively, who is struggling to hit the mark.
A note of caution on Facebook: the platform is removing the ability to ‘like’ pages, instead only allowing users to ‘follow’ pages. Facebook notes that the update will “simplify the way people connect with their favourite Pages.”
“Unlike Likes, Followers of a Page represent the people who can receive updates from Pages, which helps give public figures a stronger indication of their fan base,” Facebook adds. This does mean some figures in this piece have increased slightly more than previously.
Motorsport Broadcasting compares social media data from 15 different championships, from Formula 1 to the new W Series. 2020 was disruptive for those hoping to grow their following, with most series inactive from March to July.
Some ventured down the Esports route to keep fans engaged during last year’s lockdown before the action restarted. Two championships suffered the most because of COVID: the electric Formula E series and the W Series.
Formula E hosted their final 6 races across 9 days in August, whilst W Series cancelled their second season owing to the pandemic.
Nevertheless, the W Series increased its following from 110,000 fans to 154,000 fans, the series no doubt hoping to capitalise on their presence during F1 weekends in 2021. Meanwhile, Formula E’s portfolio grew from 2.44 million fans to 2.63 million fans across 2020, an increase of just 7.7%.
After a period in 2018 where Formula E’s following was rising sharply, the electric series has seen its growth stall in comparison to other series. Whilst COVID has halted any momentum the series had; the reality is that Formula E’s social media platforms have been struggling since early 2019.
In April 2019, 2.19 million fans hooked onto their platforms, meaning that Formula E has only gained half a million fans on social media across the past 22 months.
Whilst Formula E’s slowdown is somewhat explainable, IndyCar’s stagnation cannot. The American series grew its following by just 20,000 fans during 2020, despite holding an Esports series which garnered worldwide attention, followed by a successful 14 race calendar.
Formula 2 continued its social media rise during 2020, doubling its reach from 536,000 followers to an excellent 1.12 million followers.
With Mick Schumacher and Callum Ilott both moving on, however, it is difficult to envisage Formula 2 continuing such strong growth during 2021.
Something that, in my view, will likely play against Formula 2 this season is the new championship structure, as the feeder series alternates its slot on the F1 calendar with Formula 3.
If Formula 2 continues to grow strongly during 2021, then it is possible F2 could overtake IndyCar in the social media pecking order later this year.
Out in front, F1 and MotoGP continued to surge unaffected by COVID during 2020, both quickly heading towards 30 million followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram combined.
1st on track, and 1st in the socials. 2020 was a success on and off track for Mercedes, as they continued to increase their lead over Red Bull in the social media stakes.
Mercedes’ advantage on social media is reflective of their openness across their social media platforms.
Despite Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas being their main players on-track, it is technical director James Allison who plays a key role in Mercedes’ digital output. Allison explains in clear detail the design decisions that his team make during each Grand Prix season, helping put Mercedes a step ahead of the rest both on and off-track.
Whilst Red Bull’s portfolio is still growing strong, arguably the Milton Keynes outfit has slipped back in recent times – a slip that we can trace back to Daniel Ricciardo’s departure at the end of 2018.
Statistics compiled by Motorsport Broadcasting show that Red Bull consistently recorded the strongest growth of any F1 team between 2015 and 2018, but has now not only slipped behind Mercedes, but also Ferrari and McLaren.
And, despite Ricciardo not being in a race winning car at Renault / Alpine, his growth on social media during 2020 was still bigger than his former team-mate Max Verstappen (see the chart below), showing how popular he is amongst the motor sport fan base.
Has Red Bull’s revolving second seat turned potential new fans off the team? Of course, we should note that Red Bull still has a combined 18 million followers across the three major social media platforms, an excellent number and only behind the black cars.
Red Bull’s figures will be one to watch this season as Sergio Perez brings his Mexican contingent with him from Racing Point, now rebranded as Aston Martin.
Fuelled by Perez’s shock win in Bahrain, Aston Martin ended up best of the rest on social media in 2020, meaning that they are highly likely to overtake both AlphaTauri and Williams in total followers as 2021 gets underway.
Both Ferrari and McLaren maintained strong growth despite their on-track misfortune in recent years (although the latter is now firmly on the road to recovery), showing how important it is to have a strong brand name behind you during tough times.
If social media was a championship, then Hamilton, Ricciardo and McLaren’s Lando Norris were 2020’s winners.
The gulf between Hamilton and the rest of the F1 continues to get larger and larger, as Hamilton’s activism off the circuit cuts through to a wider audience that transcends the sporting world.
Hamilton’s combined social media following of 33 million fans is over 4 times the next best in F1, with Ricciardo in 2nd on a combined 7.56 million followers. On Instagram alone, Hamilton has 21.6 million followers, the highest for any motor sport driver by some margin.
Behind Hamilton and Ricciardo, 2020 was the year of the Twitchers, with Norris, Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, and George Russell all reaping the rewards, building a strong following during the first lockdown in spring.
Norris attracted further attention during the lockdown by participating in IndyCar’s iRacing Challenge, even if it did not necessarily help the latter in the social media standings.
Russell’s growth was one of the strongest during 2020. Helped by his Mercedes drive in Sakhir, his following surged from 551,000 fans at the end of 2019 to 2.55 million fans across the three main social platforms, a rise of 362% in 14 months!
To put that into context, current Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas grew his following by just 841,000 fans, considerably lower than his Twitch counterparts, including Alex Albon. If this was a qualifying session, both Bottas and Albon would be out in Q2.
The figures show how important the UK territory is to Formula 1, with 3 of the top 6 ‘growers’ during 2020 consisting of the British contingent.
In addition to the Grand Prix field, Motorsport Broadcasting also tracked Mick Schumacher’s following through his second season in Formula 2.
Schumacher’s growth across the year is remarkable for a driver who was, at that point, in the feeder series, reflecting the name and the weight that he carries on his shoulders with him into F1.
The 2021 season, for both MotoGP and F1, begins on Sunday 28th March, with live coverage of F1 testing beginning of Friday 12th March.
Coverage of testing for UK viewers airs live on Sky Sports F1, with coverage also available via F1 TV Pro for those territories with access to the series.
All the figures above compare the number of followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram between November 29th, 2019 and January 30th, 2021, therefore encompassing the whole of the 2020 motor racing season.
MotoGP fans worldwide will remember 2020 for many reasons, and not only because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On track, the action was thrilling, with Juan Mir stepping out into the limelight to secure his first championship in the premier class, and Suzuki’s first since 2000.
The pandemic resulted in changes across the board: a truncated MotoGP season of just 14 races started in July, culminating on November 22nd in Portugal. Some broadcasters stayed away from the paddock, including UK broadcaster BT Sport, who recently extended their deal to cover MotoGP until the end of the 2024 season.
BT based themselves to begin with at Triumph’s UK headquarters in Hinckley, before moving to the iconic BT Tower in London from September. For the personnel involved, 2020 meant a season closer to their loved ones, for the first time in years.
During the Czech Republic weekend, I mused around BT’s temporary Triumph base to see how they were adapting to the ever-changing pandemic, chatting to the stars in front of the camera, including lead commentator Keith Huewen.
But little did I, or perhaps he, know at the time, 2020 would be Huewen’s last with the BT Sport team. Following the season finale, Huewen announced that he was stepping down as BT’s lead commentator.
Here, we look back at Huewen’s broadcasting career…
The early days
Before stepping into the broadcasting arena, Huewen raced across the UK and overseas, like many before and after him, including at Mallory Park, which is just a stone’s throw away from the Triumph building where we recollect about the past.
Huewen raced into his early 30s in the 1980s, when injury forced him onto the side-lines at a “relatively early” age. “I won my last British championship when I was 30, and retired when I was 31,” he tells me.
“The fact is, at a certain age, you know as a rider, that the time is right [to retire]. Some go through denial; others are forced out through injury. For me, it was a bit of both. I had shoulder injuries that were hampering me, and it felt like the time was right to move on.”
It was during his racing days that Huewen met journalist Julian Ryder, a friendship now almost 40 years in the making, and one that has evolved over the years through various commentary stints with multiple broadcasters.
The two began their partnership with Eurosport, before moving to Sky, in an era where satellite TV was just coming to the forefront, and the sports television boom on pay-TV was beginning.
“It was pioneering back in those days,” Huewen recalls. “I always remember my mates at the BBC and elsewhere laughing their socks off when they knew I was going satellite.”
“But, of course, within two or three years, all the sports departments you had at Anglia Television and Look South had gone. A lot of the people I worked with at, say, Anglia are now working with different production companies all over the country.”
“Satellite television really took sport on and improved it in my view. There’s a lot of people that baulked at the idea that sport would cost people money to watch on TV but the fact is sport pretty much lives off the television nowadays.”
Whilst pioneering, there were fewer people involved in front of the screen compared to today, with the likes of Huewen ‘doubling up’ as both presenter and commentator.
Huewen not only presented Sky’s World Superbikes offering from Chiswick in the mid-1990s, but would then join Ryder in the commentary box straight after. Whilst “quite good fun,” Huewen does look back on certain aspects of their commentary slightly differently, and not with rose-tinted glasses either.
“TV commentary has moved on hugely since the ’90s. I listen to some of our old commentaries and cringe slightly. I’m sure if you spoke to Jules, he’d be exactly the same!”
“The professionalism involved in our television broadcast now is hugely better than it was back then, in both the production standards, and I hope in commentary standards,” Huewen believes.
As with many commentators, Huewen has bounced around various places, on both two wheels and four. See if you recognise the commentator in the clip above, published to F1’s YouTube channel, featuring Lewis Hamilton climbing from back to front during his karting days in 1998…
The second coming
With Sky moving away from World Superbikes however as the 1990s ended, the Huewen and Ryder pairing ended, for now at least.
Huewen spent the 2000s presenting Sky’s motor sport portfolio, from A1 Grand Prix to IndyCar, and whilst he admits he “could have ticked over at Sky forever,” presenting motor sport in a studio when other broadcasters were evolving their offering around him, was not where he wanted to be.
In addition, the emergence of Sky F1 at the beginning of 2012 meant that Sky’s existing motor sport rights became even less of a priority.
For Huewen, MotoGP’s move from the BBC and Eurosport to BT Sport ready for the start of 2014 season, presented new opportunities, and more importantly, a potential return to what he loved doing.
“The point here is that I really, really, really felt the loss of not being at the track covering World Superbikes or MotoGP and when BT took MotoGP on, I wanted to be there.”
The jigsaw fell into place for the Northampton-based commentator. Internal support from the powers that be at BT Sport sealed the deal for Huewen, whilst Huewen himself made it clear to Dorna, MotoGP’s Commercial Rights Holder, that he wanted to be back in the paddock.
“I’d made sure that the right people had known that we [Huewen and Ryder] were available to the point where I’d even gone out to Le Mans in 2013 to meet with [CEO] Carmelo Ezpeleta at Dorna to make sure that he knew so that if anybody from BT asked the boss at Dorna his opinion regarding commentators, he would know that I was in the marketplace,” Huewen recalls.
“Grant Best [BT’s Executive Director of Talent, Creative and Programming] at the time decided that he wanted Jules [Ryder] and I back together again. That meant that the likes of Steve Parrish and Toby Moody both very capable commentators, lost out.”
“But they lost out on the BT deal because it was decided that Jules and I were going to get back together again, and the rest is history as they say.”
Huewen is full of praise for the BT team that he leaves behind.
“The team that’s on BT is a well-oiled machine, everybody works well together. We’re very fortunate in that everybody shares information, which you don’t get in broadcasting that often. It’s an unusual situation.”
“Going back to the racing analogy, it’d be like sharing your notes as far as your data is concerned, with somebody that’s outside of your team, it’s rare.”
Commentating with Ryder and Hodgson
Contrary to what some on social media may believe, Huewen and Ryder are genuine friends, even if they sometimes did “aggravate each other” in the commentary box!
“People often ask ‘do you actually like each other.’ And we really do, we are good mates. We’re opposites in many of our viewpoints, but we always end up properly agreeing.”
“Our arguments have always been whoever can argue the most reasonably wins. If you’ve got the most reasonable argument over the other person, you win, eventually.”
“He’s never hit me. Although I think he probably wanted to.”
Hopefully not in commentary…
“It’s been close! I’ve had to stand up in front of the screen so I can get a go sometimes.”
Joking or not (reader, I will let you decide), Huewen’s and Ryder’s friendship goes beyond the commentary box, and the two still speak regularly about the action on track.
“Yeah, we still speak every week about what’s going on. We’re all connected in our field, journalists, riders, mechanics. We’ve known each other for decades.”
“Motorcycling is your life, and the fact you’re broadcasting now, even though it is a job in comparison, you’re still just as enthusiastic about it as you were then. I’ve spent nights lying in bed, looking through time sheets. Some people think that’s bloody ridiculous,” Huewen laughs.
“And it’s not because I have to, it’s because I want to!”
More recently, Neil Hodgson has succeeded Ryder in the commentary box alongside Huewen, a pairing that in Huewen’s eyes has worked “really well.”
“He’s got personality and he knows what he’s talking about at the end of the day. He’s like me, man and boy came up through the paddock. I knew his Mum and Dad for a long time, and I of course commentated on a lot of stuff Hodgy had done.”
“We have a very similar sense of humour, which always helps. We’re like brothers from a different mother, and that works really well.”
Citing the “unexpected positive effect of the pandemic,” Huewen stepped aside from BT’s offering following the conclusion of the 2020 season, but is also keen to emphasise that, like Ryder a few years earlier, he is not retiring.
What next then for both Huewen, and BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage? Who will succeed Huewen in the BT box? That is the next chapter to follow…
The BBC and Eurosport will continue to show Formula E for the 2020/21 season, it has been confirmed.
As in the past two seasons, the BBC will air live coverage across their free-to-air platforms, including the Red Button service, BBC iPlayer, and the BBC Sport website.
Some races may also air on BBC One or BBC Two, however this is dependent on how the Formula E schedule evolves across 2021 owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Extending our partnership with the BBC gives us the platform to bring the unpredictable action of our all-electric racing to people in the UK on mainstream channels and the popular BBC digital channels, as we also look to engage the next generation of sports fans around the world with our BBC Global News content partnership,” said Aarti Dabas, Formula E’s Chief Media Officer.
In addition to the BBC’s offering, live coverage will air on Eurosport, whilst fans can also watch every session live via Formula E’s YouTube channel.
Since launching in 2014, Formula E’s live coverage has jumped around various stations: from ITV4, to Channel 5 and now remaining on the BBC. It is unknown whether Formula E benefits financially from the current BBC deal.
Normally the broadcaster pays the series to air their content, but it is likely that the amount of money exchanged here is negligible, given that the electric series benefits more from the deal than the BBC.
The season kicks off this Thursday, with 2 night races in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia.
Thursday 25th February 15:10 to 16:10 – Practice 1 (YouTube)
Friday 26th February 10:55 to 11:55 – Practice 2 (YouTube) 12:45 to 14:15 – Qualifying (YouTube / BBC Red Button) 16:30 to 18:30 – Race 1 (YouTube / BBC Red Button / Eurosport 2) => Eurosport 2 coverage runs from 16:50 to 18:00
Saturday 27th February 10:55 to 11:55 – Practice 3 (YouTube) 12:45 to 14:30 – Qualifying (YouTube / BBC Red Button) 16:30 to 18:30 – Race 2 (YouTube / BBC Red Button / Eurosport 2) => Eurosport 2 coverage runs from 16:50 to 18:00
Full scheduling details for the 2021 Diriyah E-Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Sunday 21st February and are subject to change.
Fresh from the I’m a Celebrity castle, Vernon Kay returns as Formula E presenter, Kay now heading into his fourth season with the team. Joining him in pit lane are the usual trio of Jack Nicholls, Dario Franchitti and Nicki Shields.
Behind the lens, Formula E partners with many external stakeholders to execute its vision.
Production companies Aurora Media Worldwide and North One Television bring their expertise together to form Formula E TV, the entity responsible for producing World Feed coverage of every session.
Aurora have been part of the Formula E journey since the championship’s first ever race in Beijing in 2014, with North One joining them ready for the 2017/18 season.
On the facilities front, Timeline TV provides equipment and facilities for the production team to use every race weekend, ensuring that everything Formula E TV wants to achieve on-screen is technically possible.
No series is complete without a strong brand and social media presence, which is where both Little Dot Studios and CSM enter the picture.
In recent years, Little Dot has been responsible for some of Formula E’s best social media projects, including their stunt involving a Formula E car and a cheetah in 2017. The stunt has amassed 45 million views on YouTube, easily the most watched video on Formula E’s YouTube channel.
In addition, Little Dot works with Formula E’s outfits, helping them on their social media journey.
Meanwhile, CSM’s involvement surrounds Formula E’s PR and branding, on and off-site, ensuring that the championship’s branding is consistent across all platforms, from trackside hoardings all the way through to Twitter.
Eight races are currently scheduled for season seven, with further race announcements expected in early spring.
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.