Looking back at 10 years of Sky Sports F1

“Your new home of Formula 1. On PC, mobile, Sky Sports app, Red Button, high definition, and incredible 5.1 audio. This is Sky Sports F1 HD.”

After months of anticipation, 10 years ago today, Sky Sports F1 launched onto the air with a live show on launch night. The channel has changed over the last decade, with some features added, and others removed.

Here is how Motorsport Broadcasting has covered the last ten years…

July 29th, 2011 – After mounting speculation, the bombshell landed on the Friday prior to the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend that Sky Sports would be airing every Formula 1 session live from 2012 in a new seven-year deal with F1 and the BBC.

Immediately, speculation turned to who would be joining Sky, with the BBC’s then lead commentator Martin Brundle making his feelings clear on Twitter.

March 9th, 2012 – Supported by an advertising campaign under the ‘F1™ like never before’ banner, with Alistair Griffin’s Just Drive as the channel’s signature tune, Sky’s F1 channel launched nine days before the Australian Grand Prix.

Georgie Thompson and Ted Kravitz presented the inaugural edition of The F1 Show, also featuring contributions from Soccer AM’s John “Fenners” Fendley, who was on location during pre-season testing.

March 18th, 2012 – The 90-minute pre-race show we have come to know well over the past decade made its debut in Melbourne, with a now familiar line-up. Out of the 8 people that were part of Sky’s F1 team that weekend, 7 of them are still with the team now. Simon Lazenby presented, with David Croft and Brundle on commentary, the pair joining from BBC’s F1 team. A peak of just over one million viewers watched the opening race on Sky.

February 15th, 2013 – Motorsport Broadcasting revealed that Thompson had left the Sky F1 team after just one season, with suggestions swirling that Thompson wanted a bigger role heading into the 2013 season. Thompson presented the studio based F1 Show during 2012, a format which worked well, bringing fans closer to the detail outside the race weekend.

The format of The F1 Show has changed over the years: from a studio with no fans, to a live studio with fans, to on-site, from Friday’s to Saturday’s and everything in between, The F1 Show has not quite stuck to a consistent slot over its lifespan.

May 1st, 2014 – Arguably the best themed week that Sky has ever put together for F1: Senna Week. The week marked 20 years since Ayrton Senna’s death at Imola, with special programming focusing on both his and Roland Ratzenberger’s tragic accidents.

October 5th, 2014 – Sky’s most difficult race day broadcast: the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. The race came to an early conclusion after Jules Bianchi’s fatal accident. The channel went off-air for the remainder of the day, with no re-runs of the Grand Prix broadcast.

March 23rd, 2016 – Less than a week after Channel 4 aired Formula 1 for the first time, taking over the BBC’s free-to-air commitments, Sky and F1 announced that Sky would air F1 exclusively live from 2019. The deal, rumoured to be around £1 billion over six years, was one of the last signed while Bernie Ecclestone and CVC were running the sport.

> Flashback to 2016: Davidson and Brundle highlight strengths and weaknesses in Sky’s F1 team
> Flashback to 2019: Button stands out as Sky celebrates their 150th F1 race
> Flashback to 2020: The catalyst for change?

Since that deal was signed, as well as screening Formula Two and Formula Three, the Sky F1 channel has expanded its portfolio, now covering the IndyCar Series, British GT, and the GT World Challenge.

Late 2017 – Martin Turner steered the channel from inception through its infancy, before stepping down as Sky’s Director of F1 in 2017. Scott Young succeeded Turner, bringing Jenson Button and Karun Chandhok into the team as Sky’s new agreement with F1 in 2019 edged ever closer.

February 25th, 2019 – Possibly Young’s biggest undoing was thinking he could drop one of Sky’s most popular team members. The Ted Kravitz saga overshadowed the start of Sky’s new F1 contract in 2019, with Kravitz’s role reduced in the process.

March 2020 – The world as we knew it changed, with Formula 1 and the rest of the sporting world paused as the COVID-19 pandemic began. Esports and special historical programming got Sky through the first lockdown.

The crew returned on-site to Austria at the start of July, however, COVID continued to impact production, in particular the Race to Perfection documentary series. The series, celebrating 70 years of F1, fell victim to COVID with planned interviews shelved because of the pandemic.

December 12th, 2021 – Sky’s audiences have doubled in recent years, and continued to swell further as the 2021 season came to its conclusion. A peak of 2.66 million watched the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix live on Sky as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen clashed.

One week later, Sky’s coverage also aired free-to-air for the first time via Channel 4, with a peak audience of over 7 million viewers watching the final lap showdown between Hamilton and Verstappen.

March 9th, 2022 – Now, Sky celebrates 10 years of F1, heading into its eleventh season. Naomi Schiff is the latest talent to join Sky’s broadcast team, with a new show set to air on Monday evenings from next week called Any Driven Monday, recapping all the action from F1, F2, F3 and IndyCar.

Schiff presents the show alongside Matt Baker, which will air across the F1 channel and YouTube. Speaking about the announcement, Billy McGinty, who has since succeeded Young as Sky’s Director of F1, said “I’m delighted to welcome Naomi to our Sky Sports F1 team. I’ve watched Naomi’s career with interest, I’m excited she’ll be contributing to our coverage and co-hosting our new YouTube show Any Driven Monday.”

“Every year we strive to push the boundaries of broadcasting, whether that’s technology and innovation or multi-dimensional storytelling and this year will be no exception. We are seeing growth in motorsport fans year on year and it’s our role as the exclusive home of Formula 1 to continue to challenge ourselves and deliver the best coverage for our audiences.”

“2021 was an exceptional season for the sport and we look forward to more excitement and drama in 2022.”

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.

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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Sky Sports secures IndyCar rights in key European territories, including UK, until 2024 season

Sky Sports will continue to air the IndyCar Series in the UK until the end of the 2024 season, the broadcaster has announced.

The broadcaster made the announcement on Friday 29th October via their German arm Sky Sport. Sky have yet to make a formal announcement via their UK outlet.

Sky’s new exclusive deal also covers Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, and Italy. It is the first time that Sky has covered IndyCar in Germany, the series currently airing on Sport1+.

Sky says that the deal covers live coverage and highlights of IndyCar, as well as “extensive exploitation rights for numerous other content, such as highlight clips or archive material,” although it is unclear whether this element of the statement covers all territories or just Germany.

Charly Classen, Executive Vice President of Sport for Sky Deutschland said, “With the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, we have secured the exclusive rights to the largest motorsport series in the USA, which also has a large fan base in Europe.”

“The racing series is a perfect addition to our strong motorsport range.”

The 2021 season finished in September at Laguna Seca, with Alex Palou crowned Drivers’ Champion. Next year’s season is set to begin on February 27th from St Petersburg, the earliest start to an IndyCar season since 2000.

IndyCar continues to support strong Sky F1 portfolio outside of core content

2022 marks a decade since Sky Sports F1 first hit the airwaves in the UK, and the shape of the channel outside of F1 race weekends has changed somewhat in that time.

The most noticeable change is the increase in supplementary content to the core F1 action. In recent years, Sky have aired, in either live or highlights form, the British GT Championship, the Ferrari Challenge, GT World Challenge, with IndyCar also joining the fray since 2019.

Sky goes beyond the basics, the broadcaster opting to air IndyCar qualifying and practice live (yes, practice) where possible.

The partnership between Sky and IndyCar makes logical sense, considering Comcast owns both Sky and NBC in the US.

Earlier this year, NBC and IndyCar announced a multiple year extension to their rights deal, making the Sky arrangement in Europe more of a formality than originally anticipated.

Sky have promoted IndyCar more in the UK this season through their F1 programming, with viewing figures benefiting as a result.

The 105th Indianapolis 500 averaged 125,000 viewers across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event according to consolidated data from BARB. The impressive figure takes into account Sky’s marathon two-hour build-up, with the race itself likely equalling 2019’s record figure for the 500.

Later in the season, IndyCar’s debut outing at Nashville on Sunday 8th August brought 66,000 viewers to Sky’s F1 channel, with 62,000 tuning in a week later to watch an IndyCar race round the Indianapolis Road Course.

While these figures are lower than Formula Two, IndyCar has built a loyal following over the past few years, a statement supported by IndyCar’s UK audience figures this year on Sky.

However, longstanding problems with IndyCar’s broadcast remain, including the lack of a consistent English-language commentary feed for the duration of the race which, in this writer’s view, prevents the series from growing further outside of America.

In addition, Sky have begun to air limited commercials following a sponsorship deal with Arrow, title sponsors of McLaren’s IndyCar outfit. It remains unknown if Sky intend to air commercials next season during their IndyCar coverage.

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.