F1’s UK audience figures rise in 2021, but series sees worldwide dip

Formula 1’s UK audience figures rose to their highest level in around four to five years as the titanic battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton came to a climax, however, audience figures dipped worldwide, analysis from Motorsport Broadcasting shows.

The consolidated UK data, released by BARB, includes viewers who watched the Grand Prix within seven days of the original transmission across TV, PC, smartphone, and tablet (defined by BARB as ‘four-screen viewing data’), the body no longer splitting these out into separate components.

A small number of historical data points are missing; however, these are not statistically significant enough to impact the overall trajectory.

In addition, this analysis excludes the Russian Grand Prix, as Sky’s figures for that weekend are unavailable, but does include the shortened Belgian Grand Prix.

Sky’s figures rise to highest ever level…

On race day, Sky split their programming into three or four blocks, depending on weekend.

Their build-up normally lasts 85 minutes, with the race segment lasting 135 minutes. The ‘Chequered Flag’ programme follows the podium for 60 minutes, whilst Ted’s Notebook sometimes wraps up proceedings.

Across a mix of Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase, an average audience of 1.59 million viewers watched the 22 races live on Sky during 2021, their highest ever audience for Formula 1.

Year-on-year, Sky’s figures increased by 25.7% from 1.27 million viewers in 2020, the fourth consecutive year that Sky’s F1 audience has increased.

For the first time, over 2 million viewers watched an F1 race live via one of Sky’s television channels. The season started well in Bahrain, with an average of 1.94 million viewers watching the race, peaking above the 2 million mark.

Later in the year, 2.11 million viewers watched a dramatic Saudi Arabian Grand Prix unfold, with 2.30 million opting to stay with Sky for the season decider in Abu Dhabi. The latter figure excludes those who decided to watch Sky’s broadcast on Channel 4.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Dutch Grand Prix was Sky’s lowest rated of 2021, averaging just 1.12 million viewers.

Competition from other channels was easier than usual, with no Premier League football, however the race followed the farcical Belgian Grand Prix one week earlier, which may have invertedly caused a dip.

Sky’s wrap around programming felt the benefit of the championship battle, with their pre-race build-up increasing by 13.9% year-on-year, while their post-race analysis increased by 31.1%, both double their 2018 averages.

Unsurprisingly, both Britain and Italy saw larger post-race audiences, thanks to Hamilton and Verstappen’s on-track incidents, with 407,000 viewers sticking around for the Silverstone post-race analysis and 448,000 viewers sticking around for the Monza debrief.

The new F1 Sprint format also performed well, with an average of 739,000 viewers watching Hamilton charge through the field in Brazil, the figure including Sky’s extensive wrap-around programming.

Sky gained an extra competitive session because of the change, with the displaced Friday qualifying session performing strongly. Both the Italian and Brazilian qualifying programmes averaged 470,000 viewers, comfortably above Sky’s usual practice average.

…as Channel 4’s audience continues to drop…

While Sky benefited from the intense championship battle, Channel 4 saw no obvious benefit, outside of the Abu Dhabi decider.

Highlights of 20 races on the free-to-air broadcaster (excluding Silverstone and Abu Dhabi) averaged 1.50 million viewers, down 14.4% of the 2020 average of 1.75 million viewers.

Including Silverstone and Abu Dhabi, the 23 races on Channel 4 averaged 1.63 million viewers, down on the equivalent 2020 figure of 1.80 million viewers. An average of 3.36 million viewers watched the season decider live on Channel 4.

The return of USA and Mexico to the F1 calendar hurt Channel 4’s average, both bringing in less than a million viewers after 7 days of consolidation, in part thanks to their late night time slot on Sunday.

Channel 4’s weak average was compounded by the fact that five of the European based races (France, Styria, Belgium, Netherlands and Turkey) averaged under 1.50 million viewers compared with one race (Abu Dhabi) in 2020.

Nevertheless, there were some positive numbers in amongst the overall decline for Channel 4, with the Emilia Romagna, Hungarian and Italian rounds drawing in close to 2 million viewers for their 150-minute highlights packages.

An average of 1.97 million viewers watched as Hamilton and Verstappen collided for the second time in 2021 at Monza, a slight increase on an equally dramatic 2020 Italian Grand Prix, which brought in 1.88 million viewers.

…but the overall UK picture is positive…

Unsurprisingly, Hamilton versus Verstappen drew in the viewers in 2021.

3.22 million viewers watched across Sky Sports and Channel 4, an increase of 5.1% on 2020 average audience of 3.06 million viewers, bringing audience figures back to a level last seen in 2016 and 2017.

However, the 2021 average dropped slightly at end of season compared with the mid-season figure of 3.24 million viewers.

As referenced both the USA and Mexican rounds performed poorly on Channel 4, with Sky’s live audience failing to offset the Channel 4 drop. The lack of increase may also suggest audience fatigue crept in as the season progressed.

For example, the Qatar Grand Prix averaged 3.15 million viewers, 1,000 viewers fewer than the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, despite the championship battle having stepped up considerably by that point.

The season finale in Abu Dhabi was the most watched race of 2021, with 5.66 million viewers watching live across Channel 4 and Sky Sports, this figure including some of the pre-race build-up and post-race wrap-around.

Overnight data showed that a peak of 7.4 million viewers watched as Verstappen overtook Hamilton to win the F1 title.

Saudi Arabia, Britain and the season opener in Bahrain also drew strong audiences. The inaugural race in Saudi averaged 3.88 million viewers, F1’s highest average at that time since the 2018 US Grand Prix.

Channel 4’s and Sky’s F1 audiences continued to converge, with a 49:51 split between the two broadcasters.

Assuming Sky’s audience figures remain strong this season, it is increasingly likely that they will become the dominant F1 broadcaster, from an audience share perspective, in the UK moving forward.

…as F1 faces a worldwide audience dip

While Formula 1’s audience increased in the UK thanks to the championship battle between Hamilton and Verstappen, worldwide the sports average audience dropped significantly.

An average of 70.3 million viewers watched each race, a decrease of 20% on 2020’s average of 87.4 million viewers, and down on the 2019 figure of 91 million viewers.

F1 says that the decrease is due to a change in broadcast rights in Germany and Brazil. For markets where broadcast rights have remained identical, audience figures increased by 13% to 60.3 million viewers, which F1 says is the best figure since 2013.

Taking the figures at face value, this implies that where broadcast rights changed hands between 2020 and 2021, F1’s average audience dropped by 24.1 million viewers, from 34 million viewers in 2020 to 9.9 million viewers in 2021.

SeasonCumulative Audience% y-o-yAverage Audience% y-o-yRaces Held
20181.76 billionn/a83.7 millionn/a21
20191.92 billion9%91.5 million9%21
20201.49 billion-23%87.4 million-5%17
20211.55 billion4%70.5 million-19%22
Source: Formula 1 press releases / Motorsport Broadcasting analysis

The drop is significant for F1, but unsurprising in some ways. F1 themselves highlighted in their 2019 data release that Brazil and Germany were two of their top markets, a statistic that will have since changed two years later.

While not impacting the whole of 2021, it is likely that the closure of Fox Sports in Asia also dented F1’s average across the season. F1 needed to find new homes in territories such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia after Fox closed its doors in early Autumn.

The fact that F1’s figures have increased for territories where the TV rights have stayed the same is good, but it fails to account for the overall worldwide drop that F1 has experienced. Like Formula 1, Formula E also used their cumulative audience data to hide a race-by-race drop.

Over on F1’s digital platforms, analysis by this site shows that the amount of people watching F1’s race highlights packages on YouTube has increased by 41% year-on-year, from an average of 5.24 million viewers in 2020 to 7.38 million viewers in 2021.

Both the cumulative TV audience and unique audience increased by 4% and 3% respectively year-on-year to 1.55 billion viewers and 445 million viewers, reflecting the longer calendar compared with 2020.

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Scheduling: The 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Verstappen versus Hamilton. 21 races down. 1 to go. The 2021 championship fight is going down to the wire, in one of the most intense Formula 1 seasons in years, as both drivers go into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix level on 369.5 points.

If Lewis Hamilton beats Max Verstappen, he will become an eight-time Drivers’ Champion, breaking the record set by Michael Schumacher in 2004.

If Verstappen wins, he will win his first Drivers’ Championship, becoming the 34th person to win the championship, and the first from the Netherlands.

The race will air live on free-to-air television after a deal was struck between Sky and Channel 4.

In addition, Sky will air special programming throughout the weekend, with specials on Friday and Saturday, and an extended race day broadcast on Sunday.

Highlights of the race will still air on Channel 4 in an early evening time slot, with qualifying airing at 18:55 on Saturday, with race at 17:30 on Sunday, three hours after the chequered flag has fallen.

Radio coverage airs across BBC’s online platform, BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, with updates also during the race itself on BBC Radio 5 Live.

The weekend could be BBC’s last for covering F1 on radio, with no formal announcement yet on who will be covering F1 from 2022 onwards.

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

Thursday 9th December
15:00 to 16:00 – The F1 Show (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
16:00 to 17:30 – F1: Drivers’ Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)
20:00 to 21:00 – F1: Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Friday 10th December
08:05 to 08:50 – F2: Practice (Sky Sports F1)
09:00 to 10:45 – F1: Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase)
12:45 to 14:25 – F1: Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase)
=> also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 12:55 to 14:05
14:25 to 15:05 – F2: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)

15:05 to 15:35 – The F1 Show: Decider in the Desert (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)

Saturday 11th December
08:10 to 09:15 – F2: Sprint Race 1 (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
09:45 to 11:10 – F1: Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase)
12:00 to 14:40 – F1: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase)
=> also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 12:55 to 14:05
14:40 to 15:40 – F2: Sprint Race 2 (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
15:40 to 16:40 – F1: Champions Special (Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase)
16:40 to 17:10 – Ted’s Qualifying Notebook (Sky Sports F1)
18:55 to 20:25 – F1: Qualifying Highlights (Channel 4)

20:30 to 21:30 – IndyCar Season Review (Sky Sports F1)

Sunday 12th December
08:50 to 10:10 – F2: Feature Race (Sky Sports F1)
11:30 to 17:00 – F1: Race (Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase)
=> 11:30 – Grand Prix Sunday
=> 12:55 – Race
=> also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 12:45 to 15:00
=> 15:00 – Chequered Flag

=> note: Sky Sports Main Event leaves the F1 at 16:00, Sky Showcase leaves the F1 at 16:30
=> 16:30 – Ted’s Notebook

12:00 to 16:00 – F1: Race (Channel 4)
=> 12:00 – Build-Up
=> 12:55 – Race
=> 15:00 – Reaction
=> note: simulcast of Sky Sports from 12:15 to 15:30
17:30 to 19:00 – F1: Race Highlights (Channel 4)

Full scheduling details for the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Thursday 9th December and are subject to change.

If scheduling details do change, this article will be updated.

Updated on Thursday 9th December at 17:50.

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Sky “unlikely” to make potential F1 title deciding season finale available on a free-to-air basis

Sky Sports are “unlikely” to make coverage of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix available on a free-to-air basis if the F1 championship battle goes down to the wire, current plans from the broadcaster indicate.

8 points separate Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton at the top of the Drivers’ Championship, with two races remaining.

If Verstappen does not clinch the championship at the next round in Saudi Arabia, it will be the first time since 2016 that the championship has gone to the final race of the season.

In 2016, the season finale aired live across Channel 4 and Sky Sports as part of the UK F1 TV rights agreement that was in place at that time.

Now, apart from the British Grand Prix, every race airs exclusively live on Sky Sports, with highlights on Channel 4.

The Abu Dhabi race could be the first F1 race in around 40 years where the Drivers’ Championship has gone down to the wire, without live coverage airing on free-to-air television in the UK.

Speaking to Motorsport Broadcasting, Sky said “The race is unlikely to be free to air on December 12th. Highlights will be available on Channel 4 as always.”

Current Channel 4 schedules show that highlights of qualifying will air at 18:55 on Saturday 11th December, with race highlights airing at 17:30.

Sky’s schedules show that the broadcaster will simulcast their race day offering across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event, but not via Sky Showcase, as they did last month for coverage of the US Grand Prix qualifying session.

The 2021 season continues on Friday 3rd December with coverage of the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

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Scheduling: The 2021 United States Grand Prix

With 6 races to go in the 2021 Formula One season, just 6 points separate Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton as the championship returns to Texas for the United States Grand Prix!

For UK viewers, the weekend offering from both Sky Sports and Channel 4 looks a little different to usual – hence why Motorsport Broadcasting has opted to publish a full schedule for the weekend.

F1 – the coverage

Channel 4’s offering is the weakest from a free-to-air broadcaster in decades, partly by choice, and partly inflicted upon them.

With qualifying starting at 21:00 UK time on Saturday, Channel 4 have opted to air qualifying on Sunday morning instead of a late-night Saturday slot, as they did in 2019.

Meanwhile, the race edit begins just after midnight on Sunday, the earliest Channel 4 can contractually air the race.

Channel 4 have trimmed both shows back compared to usual: a one-hour qualifying show airs on Sunday with an 85-minute programme covering the race. Expect limited commercials, and a weekend featuring primarily World Feed content.

The actual race edits should be the same length as usual, except without the usual bells and whistles that production company Whisper usually provide.

Given the closeness of the championship race, one wonders whether Channel 4 should have negotiated with Sky to bring the free-to-air highlights package forward, even by an hour to 23:05.

Doing so would unlikely deplete Sky’s live audience, but boost Channel 4’s figure significantly, resulting in a net gain overall. Thankfully this is not a championship decider, because having the F1 title won at 01:00 on free-to-air television is not in anyone’s interests.

By way of comparison, 30 years ago, the BBC aired a 50-minute highlights package of the US Grand Prix from Phoenix in a late night time slot on BBC Two.

Sky have seemingly reacted to Channel 4’s qualifying conundrum by opting to simulcast their live coverage on their new Sky Showcase channel, enabling more viewers to watch qualifying across Sky, Virgin Media and BT TV.

F1 – the team and W Series

With a reduced offering comes a change in presenter, as Lee McKenzie steps into Steve Jones’s presenting shoes for Channel 4.

Martin Brundle returns to Sky’s coverage after missing both the Russian and Turkish rounds, with Jenson Button also joining the team out in Austin.

For the first time, IndyCar and NASCAR star Danica Patrick joins Sky’s offering. One person not with Sky is Ted Kravitz, Kravitz part of the W Series team during the US Grand Prix weekend.

Live coverage of the W Series airs across More4 and Channel 4, the Saturday race airing on More4 with the season finale airing on Channel 4.

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

Thursday 21st October
21:00 to 22:00 – The F1 Show (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
22:00 to 22:30 – F1: Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
23:00 to 00:30 – F1: Drivers’ Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)

Friday 22nd October
17:00 to 18:45 – F1: Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1)
20:45 to 22:30 – F1: Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1)

Saturday 23rd October
18:45 to 20:10 – F1: Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1)
=> also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 18:55 to 20:05
20:30 to 21:00 – Hamilton vs Verstappen: The Season so Far (Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase)
21:00 to 23:45 – F1: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase)
=> Sky Showcase until 23:15
=> also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 21:55 to 23:05
23:05 to 00:25 – W Series: Race 1 (More4)

Sunday 24th October
08:00 to 08:30 – W Series: Race 1 Highlights (Channel 4)

08:30 to 09:30 – F1: Qualifying Highlights (Channel 4)
16:30 to 18:00 – W Series: Race 2 (Channel 4)

18:30 to 23:00 – F1: Race
=> 18:30 – Grand Prix Sunday (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 19:55 – Race (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
=> also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 19:45 to 22:00
=> 22:00 – Chequered Flag (Sky Sports F1)
00:05 to 01:30 – F1: Race Highlights (Channel 4)

Full scheduling details for the 2021 United States Grand Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Friday 15th October and are subject to change.

Meanwhile, MotoGP heads back to Misano, the Emilia Romagna race filling the void left by the cancellation of the flyaway rounds.

With a 52-point advantage, Fabio Quartararo is odds on favourite to win his first MotoGP World Championship. As always, live coverage of every session airs on BT Sport 2, with highlights airing on ITV4.

Elsewhere in motor racing, the British Touring Car Championship concludes with all the action from Brands Hatch airing live on ITV4.

Friday 22nd October
08:00 to 15:15 – Practice (BT Sport 2)
=> 08:00 – Moto3
=> 08:55 – MotoGP
=> 09:55 – Moto2
=> 12:15 – Moto3
=> 13:10 – MotoGP
=> 14:10 – Moto2

Saturday 23rd October
08:00 to 15:00 – Practice and Qualifying (BT Sport 2)
=> 08:00 – Moto3: Practice 3
=> 08:55 – MotoGP: Practice 3
=> 09:55 – Moto2: Practice 3
=> 11:35 – Moto3: Qualifying
=> 12:30 – MotoGP: Practice 4
=> 13:10 – MotoGP: Qualifying
=> 14:10 – Moto2: Qualifying

Sunday 24th October
07:30 to 14:30 – Races (BT Sport 2)
=> 07:30 – Warm Ups
=> 09:15 – Moto3: Race
=> 11:00 – Moto2: Race
=> 12:30 – MotoGP: Race
=> 14:00 – Chequered Flag

Monday 25th October
20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

Full scheduling details for the 2021 Emilia Romagna MotoGP. Scheduling details correct as of Friday 15th October and are subject to change.

If plans change, this article will be updated.

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F1’s UK audience figures rise to four-year high

Formula 1’s audience figures in the UK have risen to their highest level in at least four years at the half way stage of the 2021 season, analysis from Motorsport Broadcasting suggests.

The consolidated data, released by BARB, includes viewers who watched the Grand Prix within seven days of the original transmission across TV, PC, smartphone, and tablet (defined by BARB as ‘four-screen viewing data’), the body no longer splitting these out into separate components.

With 11 of the 23 races completed, the data so far allows us to gauge how well F1 is performing in the UK, and whether the championship fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen is having any impact on audience figures.

A small number of historical data points are missing; however, these are not statistically significant enough to impact the overall trajectory.

In addition, analysis by Motorsport Broadcasting last year suggested that, while the make-up of the Grand Prix calendar has changed due to COVID with no races in the Asian or America territories, the two cancel each other out from an analytical perspective.

Asian races would typically rate lower than average in the UK due to their early morning time slot, with American races rating higher than average in a more lucrative prime time television slot.

Sky’s audience jumps…

On race day, Sky split their programming into three or four blocks, depending on weekend.

Their build-up normally lasts 85 minutes, with the race segment lasting 135 minutes. The ‘Chequered Flag’ programme follows the podium for 60 minutes, whilst Ted’s Notebook sometimes wraps up proceedings.

An average of 1.56 million viewers have watched each race on Sky this year, a sizeable increase of 27.8% on last year’s average of 1.22 million viewers.

Both figures cover the first half of their respective seasons only, allowing for a like-for-like comparison.

Audience numbers for Sky have accelerated in recent years, with their F1 audience now double what it was in 2018 – the last year where half the races also aired live on free-to-air television.

The season-opener in Bahrain remains Sky’s highest ever F1 audience. Airing live in an early evening time slot, an average of 1.94 million viewers watched the opener across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event, peaking with over 2 million viewers.

Portugal also performed well for the pay-TV platform in early May, averaging a strong 1.80 million viewers.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix brought in 1.24 million viewers. The figure for Emilia Romagna is low in the context of the season so far, yet identical to last year’s Emilia Romagna race on Sky, showing how much their audience have jumped.

7 races this year have outrated the spectacular Turkish Grand Prix from last November, which averaged 1.51 million viewers and was Sky’s highest audience of 2020.

Sky’s post-race offering has mirrored the main attraction, increasing its audience by 24.8%, rising from an average of 243,000 viewers last year to 303,000 viewers this year.

However, the preamble has only increased by 1.2% year-on-year, with around 415,000 viewers watching.

One possibility is that the increase for the race and post-race segments is a result of some ‘newer’ Sky viewers opting to record the action to watch later in the evening.

In that instance, fans may choose to bypass the pre-show and skip straight to the race, catching up on the post-race analysis afterwards.

…but Channel 4’s audience dips…

While the championship battle between Hamilton and Verstappen is bringing additional viewers to Sky’s live offering, Channel 4’s highlights offering is not seeing any positive impact.

An average of 1.69 million viewers have watched Channel 4’s race day programming so far this year, a decrease of 10.5% on last year’s halfway figure of 1.88 million viewers.

Removing the British Grand Prix figure, which Channel 4 aired live, brings both figures down to 1.62 million viewers and 1.80 million viewers respectively, a decline of 9.9% year-on-year.

Highlights of the French and Styrian rounds poorly against Euro 2020 competition on BBC One and ITV, averaging just 1.46 million viewers and 1.31 million viewers respectively.

Although peak figures are unknown, it is likely Sky recorded a higher peak than Channel 4 for both races.

The Emilia Romagna round performed well on Channel 4, averaging 1.92 million viewers, their highest highlights figure of 2021, while audiences did bounce back following the Euros, with Esteban Ocon’s shock victory in Hungary averaging 1.89 million viewers.

Live coverage of the British Grand Prix averaged 2.35 million viewers, excluding pre- and post-race analysis.

Their Silverstone audience was down on 2020’s figure of 2.56 million viewers, but marginally up on the 2019 audience when the race faced competition from the Cricket World Cup and Wimbledon finals. But the story remained the same: Sky increase, Channel 4 decrease.

Is Channel 4’s highlights programme suffering slightly from a lack of cross promotion from the free-to-air broadcaster?

Channel 4 have had the rights to F1 for six seasons, yet surprisingly the broadcaster has not presented magazine show Sunday Brunch on location from Silverstone during any of the British Grand Prix weekends.

F1 has only ever featured on Gogglebox once (earlier this year with Drive to Survive), and never had an F1 related guests on The Great British Bake Off celebrity specials.

You might not think that these are good cross overs, and that is fine. But the point is, Channel 4 are not using their popular strands of programming as effectively as they could be to promote F1.

Compare Channel 4’s approach to Top Gear between 2009 and 2011, who had the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher as guests, the latter unveiled as The Stig at one point!

These appearances only gave F1 positive publicity.

However, even cross promotion may not prevent a decrease.

The BBC’s Match of the Day staple on Saturday evenings has experienced an audience decrease in recent years, as fans have more options to watch the action immediately after the match has finished, but before Match of the Day starts. Sound familiar?

…as total audience rises to highest level since 2017

An average of 3.24 million viewers have watched Formula 1 so far in 2021, an increase of 142,000 viewers or 4.6% on last year’s half way figure of 3.10 million viewers.

The figures bring together those that watched Channel 4’s highlights package and those who watched the races live on Sky, excluding pre- and post-race analysis for the latter.

With a split of 48:52 in Channel 4’s favour, it is the closest pay-TV has come to overtaking free-to-air television in terms of the number of fans watching.

The swing is significant compared to even 2019 when the split was 37:63, again with Channel 4 winning out.

For Formula 1, it is the championship’s highest average based on this metric since at least 2017, possibly even further back than that, a pleasing rise considering the UK has been heading out of COVID lockdown over the past few months, with fewer viewers watching TV.

It is difficult to compare the 2018 to 2021 figures with 2017, as the structure of Sky’s race day programme was different to what it is now.

In 2018, an average of around 3 million viewers watched across a mix of Channel 4’s highlights and ‘race only’ segments from Channel 4’s and Sky’s live programming.

As expected, the British Grand Prix leads the way so far this season, bringing in an average of 3.78 million viewers (+4.8% year-on-year), followed closely by Bahrain (+20.0%) and Hungary (+17.8%).

Without having access to the underlying demographic data, it is unclear where Sky’s new viewers have come from.

Are they viewers who have migrated from Channel 4’s offering over the past few years, because of the Sky exclusive deal which came into effect from 2019, or are they actually new viewers to the sport, thanks to the likes of Drive to Survive?

As referenced on this site previously, a survey from The Race Media, which operates both The Race and WTF1, shows that most of their readers watch F1 on pay-TV, with less than a quarter watching via free-to-air television.

It seems likely therefore that, a fan watching Drive to Survive is more likely to jump either to highlights on YouTube or live coverage on Sky, bypassing Channel 4’s extended highlights package altogether.

That does not mean Channel 4’s highlights no longer serve a purpose: for 1.7 million viewers on average it clearly does, week in, week out. Whether it will still have a purpose in 5 years’ time, is a different question.

For now, the championship battle between Hamilton and Verstappen, Mercedes and Red Bull is keeping UK fans engaged as the series returns to action following the summer break in Belgium.

Neither broadcaster responded to a request for comment at time of writing.

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