Formula 1 benefited from poor weather across the United Kingdom last Sunday, with excellent audience figures for the Belgian Grand Prix, overnight viewing figures show.
Live coverage of the race aired on Channel 4 from 13:00 to 16:30, with 2.15m (18.4%) watching, an increase of around half a million viewers on last year’s audience of 1.65m (19.6%) across a shorter 190-minute time slot. It is the highest Belgium figure for the free-to-air component of the audience since 2015, when BBC One’s broadcast averaged 2.44m (22.3%).
Sky simulcast their programming across their F1 channel and Sky 1 to a weighted total audience of 657k (5.6%). Sky Sports F1’s broadcast averaged 582k (5.0%) from 13:00 to 16:30, with Sky 1’s shorter show from 14:00 averaging 104k (0.9%). It is Sky’s highest audience for Spa on record, beating their previous highest of 617k (6.3%) in 2016.
For both broadcasters, the audience shares are slightly down on previous years, the dip representative of a higher viewing audience due to the poor weather conditions experienced across the United Kingdom. However, the dips are marginal rather than anything profound, showing that F1 grew almost in-line with the total audience increase.
The race started with 4.26m (36.1%) at 14:15 across Channel 4 and Sky. Apart from a ten-minute period from 14:40 to 14:50 where the audience level dropped below four million viewers due to British Touring Car Championship action on ITV4, viewing figures remained north of four million viewers. There was a brief surge to 4.23m (34.8%) as the top of the hour hit, before dipping back towards four million viewers.
An audience of 4.04m (33.0%) watched Sebastian Vettel take victory at 15:30. In a parallel universe, the peak could have been closer to 4.5 million viewers if the action on-track was closer, but it was not to be: the peak occurred at the start of the race.
At the time of the peak, an audience of 3.22m (27.2%) were watching Channel 4’s coverage, with a further 1.04m (8.8%) watching across Sky’s two channels, a split of 76:24. Sky’s peak came later in the afternoon, as 1.06m (8.8%) watched in the five-minute segment from 15:25. The F1 channel peaked with 921k (7.8%) at 14:15, with Sky 1 peaking with 180k (1.5%) at 15:30.
It is easily Sky’s highest peak for Belgium ever, beating their previous best of 969k (9.3%) in 2016. For Channel 4, the same fact is true: their peak audience was only 164,000 viewers lower than the BBC’s peak in 2015 of 3.38m (27.5%).
The combined average audience of 2.80 million viewers is comfortably the best for Belgium since 2015, when 2.91 million viewers watched across BBC One and Sky Sports. Last Sunday’s audience increased by 27.8 percent compared with last year’s average audience figure of 2.19 million viewers.
The peak audience of 4.26 million viewers is the highest for the Belgian Grand Prix since the 2013 running of the event when a peak audience of 4.52m (41.9%) watched, a fantastic number. The peak audience increased year-on-year by 22.2 percent, and compared with 2016 was up by 8.2 percent.
To have a peak audience higher than two BBC years (4.04 million in 2014 and 4.15 million in 2015) is highly unusual, and shows just how good Belgium’s audience figures are in the grand scheme of things. Of course, some of that is down to the weather conditions last Sunday, but increases compared to the past two years are now becoming par for the course for F1 in 2018.
Both Channel 4 and Sky Sports recorded slightly higher numbers for qualifying than twelve months ago.
Channel 4’s live broadcast of qualifying aired from 12:55 to 15:45, to an audience of 940k (12.3%), an increase – just – on last year’s figure of 937k (12.5%). The audience for Sky’s qualifying show followed the same trajectory, averaging 269k (2.5%) compared with 262k (2.5%) last year.
The combined audience of 1.21 million viewers is as a result up marginally on last year’s number of 1.20 million viewers.
The bigger difference comes with the peak figure. The qualifying session peaked with 2.09m (25.5%) at 14:55 across Channel 4 and Sky, an increase compared with last year’s figure of 2.01m (25.1%), and the highest for Belgium since 2015.
A peak of 1.62m (19.8%) watched Channel 4’s programme, an increase of 108,000 viewers compared with last year, but Sky’s peak figure of 468k (5.7%) is down 26,000 viewers.
BTCC performs well, but average for Speed with Guy Martin
Elsewhere, live coverage of the British Touring Car Championship from a rainy Knockhill averaged 216k (2.0%) from 11:00 to 18:15 on ITV4 on Sunday, a good number considering the competition. Race 1 averaged 277k (3.5%) from 11:50, peaking with 320k (3.9%).
The second race of the day clashed with the F1, but still fared well, averaging 220k (1.8%) from 14:25, peaking with 271k (2.2%) as the race was red flagged due to the poor weather conditions. Later, 392k (2.9%) watched Tom Chilton win the third and final race from 17:20, his victory peaking with 405k (2.8%) at 17:50.
Impressively, not once during the F1 did the touring car support programme drop below 100,000 viewers, showing how well the extended show works for ITV4 overall.
On Monday evening, a new episode of Speed with Guy Martin, averaged 1.54m (7.9%) on Channel 4 from 21:00 to 22:30, the lowest number so far for Martin’s F1 themed specials.
The show faced tough competition from BBC One’s new drama Bodyguard, as well as Monday Night Football action on Sky Sports between Tottenham and Manchester United.
The 2017 Belgian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.