Tracking BBC’s and Channel 4’s Formula 1 picks from 2012 to 2018

Over the past seven years, the BBC and Channel 4 have negotiated with Sky on a yearly basis to decide which races they would like to broadcast live, and which races they will air in highlights form.

The picking process is complex, and required compromise, strategic thinking, and scheduling discussion with other departments to avoid significant clashes. For example, a live Formula 1 race on free-to-air television clashing with an England World Cup game would not be in anyone’s interests.

With seven years of data, we have enough information to work with to pick out some trends. Which races were popular with free-to-air broadcasters, and which races failed to scratch the surface? In addition, is there any correlation between a driver winning, and the race airing live on free-to-air television in the UK? The second part is not entirely serious, the analysis was more out of intrigue rather than trying to seriously suggest there was a genuine pattern.

For readers unfamiliar, the pick process worked as follows:

  • BBC / Channel 4 make three live picks
  • Sky make three exclusively live picks
  • BBC / Channel 4 make one live pick
  • Sky make one exclusively live pick
  • BBC / Channel 4 makes one live pick
  • Sky make one exclusively live pick

The process continues until there are no more races to select. The free-to-air broadcaster cannot air three races live consecutively, and similarly Sky cannot air three races exclusively live in a row. In the end, there should be a balance of races live on free-to-air television, with no skew towards one way or the other.

Both sides have their priorities, and restrictions because of the rules around the process. 139 races have taken place across the seven seasons, 25 distinct races, whilst 15 races have kept their place on the Formula 1 calendar between 2012 and 2018.

There are some obvious skews to this data, in that the free-to-air broadcaster aired the British Grand Prix as well as the final race of the season live every year as part of the agreement.

Hamilton and Mercedes more likely to win when F1 airs exclusively live on pay-TV
If you are hoping for a competitive 2019 when F1 moves primarily onto pay television, look away now. Since 2012, 68 races aired live on free-to-air television, with the other 71 airing in highlights form.

Of the races that aired in highlights on free-to-air, Mercedes have won 61 percent of them, compared to 51 percent when F1 airs live on free-to-air. In 2016, Mercedes were victorious in all the races that Channel 4 aired as highlights, with the only two non-Mercedes victories (by Red Bull in Spain and Malaysia) airing live on Channel 4.

UK F1 - wins between 2012 and 2018

Overall, the chances of Red Bull and Ferrari winning increases by 7 and 5 percentage points respectively when F1 airs live on free-to-air compared to in highlights form. This season, Mercedes won eleven races, of which seven aired exclusively live on Sky. Four of Ferrari’s victories aired live on Channel 4, with their other two (Australia and Canada) covered exclusively live by Sky.

In a parallel universe where only races that aired live on free-to-air television in the UK counted towards the F1 championship, Sebastian Vettel comes within a whisker of winning the championship, losing out to Lewis Hamilton by just eight points.

Unfortunately for Vettel, it is not quite as simple as that, as in the ‘Sky exclusive’ championship, Hamilton waltzes away with an 80-point lead, Vettel finishing the season in a four-way scrap for second, also involving Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen, separated by just six points!

It does, however, highlight the absurdness of the 2012 to 2018 deal. Imagine choosing to only watching the races that aired on free-to-air television live, you would be bemused as to how Hamilton won the 2018 championship relatively comfortably in the end.

Although Vettel did not have it all his own way in 2018, the balance of wins for him between free-to-air and pay-TV is similar at 15 and 16 wins respectively over the course of the seven year period. Both Hamilton, and ex-Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg’s win ratios skew towards pay-TV, whilst Daniel Ricciardo skews in the opposite direction.

Of course, races such as Austria, China and Italy have traditionally been pay-TV strangleholds, as well as Mercedes’ playground, explaining some of the skews in play here.

UK F1 - 2018 points

Australia left out in the cold
Since 2012, there have been 31 early morning races, 77 afternoon races and 30 prime time races for UK fans.

If you liked your early morning doses of Formula 1, the 2012 to 2018 contract did not live up to expectation, with only 12 of the 31 races (or 39 percent) of them airing live on free-to-air television.

Despite being the season opener on all seven occasions, the Australian Grand Prix had a raw deal from the BBC and Channel 4, the race has now not aired live on free-to-air since 2011.

More recently, the Chinese round did not receive good treatment, only airing live in 2012 and 2013. Despite a similar timeslot to China, the Japanese Grand Prix received a much better bite of the cherry, airing live in four out of the 7 seasons.

13 of the 30 prime time races aired live on either the BBC or Channel 4, whilst 55 percent of all afternoon races between 2012 and 2018 (42 out of 77 races) aired live on free-to-air television.

Airing the early morning races as highlights made little difference to the fan at home, but airing the prime-time evening races in highlights form several hours later meant a very late night for UK fans without Sky.

Aside from Britain (a compulsory pick), the Belgian Grand Prix aired live on all seven occasions, possibly a result of following directly after the Summer break. Abu Dhabi aired live on six occasions thanks to its season ending time slot, but there was no obvious trend for the other races, this depending on their exact placement on the calendar.

During their time covering Formula 1, the BBC avoided picking either the USA or Mexican rounds live, Sky picking these races as part of their opening set of picks. The pendulum swung their way in the Channel 4 years, but at the expense of both the Canadian and Brazilian rounds, neither of which aired live on Channel 4.

The joys of the system meant that Sky had two or three prime time races locked in from the outset, making it difficult for the free-to-air broadcaster to get a look in.

If you believe statistics can predict the future, then expect Hamilton to dominate the 2019 Formula One season, with around 14 victories to his name. Joking aside, it is fascinating how your interpretation of a given season can differ depending on where, or rather who in the case of F1’s broadcasters, you watched the show with.


F1 2018’s final hurrah peaks with 3.9 million viewers

Formula 1’s closing act of 2018 in Abu Dhabi performed solidly across the weekend, despite there being little on the line to whet the appetite, overnight viewing figures show.

Sky’s coverage aired across their dedicated F1 channel and Sky 1, whilst Channel 4’s programme marked their final live race until next year’s British Grand Prix, with every other round in 2019 airing in highlights form. As always, audience figures exclude those who watched via on-demand platforms such as Sky Go, Now TV and All 4.

An audience of 1.99m (19.1%) watched Channel 4’s broadcast from 12:00 to 15:30, an increase of 132,000 viewers on last year’s figure of 1.86m (18.7%) across a shorter 190-minute time slot.

Meanwhile, Sky’s programme averaged 625k (6.0%) across the same time slot, an increase of 75,000 viewers on last year’s figure of 551k (5.5%), when coverage aired on both the F1 channel and Sky Sports Mix. This past Sunday, Sky Sports F1 averaged 535k (5.1%), with Sky 1 adding a further 91k (0.9%).

The race started with 3.57m (34.2%) at 13:15, fluctuating around 3.5 million viewers for the first hour of the race. Sky’s coverage peaked with 931k (8.4%) at 14:20 during the half-time interval of Arsenal versus Bournemouth. The individual channels peaked separately: Sky F1 with 794k (7.3%) at 13:45 and Sky 1 with 144k (1.3%) at 14:15.

Audience figures for the Grand Prix rose from 14:15 onwards, peaking with 3.87m (33.4%) at 14:45 as Lewis Hamilton won the final race of the season. At the time of the peak, 2.96m (25.5%) were watching via Channel 4, with 912k (7.9%) watching via Sky’s television channels, a split of 76:24 in Channel 4’s favour.

The combined average audience of 2.62 million viewers is an increase on last year’s figure of 2.41 million viewers, in identical circumstances. Whilst down on 2016 as expected due to that race being a title decider, the 2018 audience is marginally up on the 2015 finale, which averaged 2.61 million viewers on BBC Two and Sky Sports F1.

A peak of 3.87 million viewers watched the race, a comfortable rise on the 2017 peak audience of 3.47 million viewers, and an increase on the 2015 peak figure of 3.70 million viewers.

So, despite there being little to play for, both broadcasters had plenty to smile about, with year-on-year increases across the board.

Live coverage of qualifying followed the same positive trajectory as the race.

Channel 4’s near three-hour broadcast from 11:55 to 14:45 averaged 1.03m (12.3%), an increase on last year’s figure of 945k (11.7%).

Sky were not as lucky, their programme, which aired across both their F1 channel and Sky 1, averaged 290k (3.4%) from 12:00 to 14:30, a dip on last year’s figure of 319k (3.9%). Last Saturday, the F1 channel averaged 255k (2.9%), with Sky 1 bringing in a further 36k (0.4%).

The qualifying hour peaked with 2.13m (22.0%) at 13:55 as Hamilton snatched pole, an increase of just over 100,000 viewers year-on-year. At the time of the peak, 1.63m (16.9%) were watching via Channel 4, with a further 497k (5.1%) watching via Sky’s two channels.

The combined average audience of 1.32 million viewers and combined peak audience of 2.13 million viewers falls in between 2016 and 2017, again a good number considering neither championship was up for grabs.

Keep an eye on the site in the forthcoming weeks, as we dissect and analyse the UK F1 viewing figures picture for 2018, looking at where the viewers were won and lost over the course of the season.

The 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

Motorsport Broadcasting: Your 2018 Verdict

The 2018 Formula One season has ended, and with it, brings down the curtain on the motor racing year.

On-track, it has been a year of generally good racing wherever you look. Whilst neither the F1 or MotoGP seasons went down the wire, the racing in both has been worth watching on many occasions this year.

Off the track, there have been many developments on the broadcasting front. Traditionally, the end of season verdict has stuck to the UK F1 view point, but we live in a motor sport world far greater than both the UK and F1, and with that in mind it makes sense to expand the scope of the verdict to encompass all elements of broadcasting.

Whether it has been the launch of F1 TV, or World Rally Championship’s All Live service, there has been plenty of movement in the online arena. Liberty Media have made their mark on Formula 1’s graphics set, whilst closer to home, 2018 was the last year of Channel 4’s current F1 contract, the broadcaster remaining in a reduced capacity, for 2019 at least.

Now, we want your opinion. Has something irritated you with this year’s motor sport coverage? Have I missed a revolution that this site should be covering? And what would you like to be different about the motor sport broadcasting scene in 2019? Are you planning to watch a new series next season?

As always, the best thoughts and views will form a new article closer to the festive period.

Scheduling: The 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

It is the end of the 2018 Formula One season this weekend, and with it marks the end of one broadcasting era for fans in the United Kingdom.

Outside of the British Grand Prix, this weekend’s season finale in Abu Dhabi is the last F1 race live on free-to-air television for UK fans until at least 2025. From 2019, Sky Sports will air every race exclusively live, the exception being Britain which, for 2019 at least, will also air live on Channel 4.

Channel 4 will air highlights of the remaining races in 2019, but their future beyond next season is currently unknown. With only one race live next year, this weekend is likely the last covering Formula 1 for several of their team.

Lee McKenzie is one name who definitely will not be part of Channel 4’s F1 team in 2019, having covered Formula 1 for ten seasons, McKenzie having initially joined the BBC at the start of the 2009 season. The rest of Channel 4’s team, and Sky’s for that matter, for 2019 will no doubt become clear over the coming weeks.

Channel 4 F1
23/11 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1
23/11 – 12:55 to 15:00 – Practice 2
24/11 – 09:55 to 11:25 – Practice 3
24/11 – 11:55 to 14:45 – Qualifying
25/11 – 12:00 to 16:35 – Race
=> 12:00 – Build-Up
=> 12:45 – Race
=> 15:25 – Reaction

Supplementary Programming
24/11 – 11:25 to 11:55 – Hamilton vs Vettel: The Fight for Five

Sky Sports F1
23/11 – 08:45 to 10:50 – Practice 1
23/11 – 12:45 to 14:55 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
24/11 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Practice 3
24/11 – 12:00 to 14:30 – Qualifying (also Sky One)
=> 12:00 – Pre-Show
=> 12:55 – Qualifying
25/11 – 11:30 to 17:10 – Race
=> 11:30 – Pit Lane Live (also Sky One)
=> 12:30 – On the Grid (also Sky One)
=> 13:05 – Race (also Sky One)
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
22/11 – 11:00 to 11:30 – Driver Press Conference
22/11 – 14:00 to 14:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
24/11 – 15:30 to 16:05 – The F1 Show

BBC Radio F1
22/11 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
23/11 – 12:55 to 14:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
24/11 – 09:55 to 11:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
24/11 – 12:55 to 14:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
25/11 – 13:00 to 15:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Formula Two – Abu Dhabi (Sky Sports F1)
23/11 – 07:25 to 08:15 – Practice
23/11 – 14:55 to 15:35 – Qualifying
24/11 – 14:30 to 15:30 – Race 1
25/11 – 09:30 to 10:30 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Abu Dhabi (Sky Sports F1)
23/11 – 11:05 to 11:45 – Qualifying
24/11 – 08:25 to 09:15 – Race 1
25/11 – 08:05 to 08:50 – Race 2

The schedule above will be updated if anything changes.

Dramatic Brazilian Grand Prix peaks with just 2.8 million viewers

A peak audience of just 2.8 million viewers watched Lewis Hamilton win a dramatic Brazilian Grand Prix last Sunday, overnight viewing figures show.

There were several factors different about the Grand Prix last weekend compared with yesteryear. Both the qualifying and race started at 17:10 UK time, the latest slot for the Brazilian round of the season since 2009. That year, qualifying started at 18:00 UK time, with the race starting an hour earlier.

Whilst a later time slot should result in higher audience figures, Formula 1 faced strong competition over the weekend, including the Manchester derby. Outside the sporting arena, there were also a variety of events broadcast on television to mark 100 years since the end of World War I.

For the first time for a Sky-exclusive Grand Prix, the pay-TV broadcaster opted to air the race on their general entertainment channel Sky 1 as well as their dedicated F1 channel. An audience of 998k (5.6%) watched from 16:00 to 19:30 across the two channels, their lowest for Brazil since 2015 when BBC One also aired live coverage.

682k (3.8%) watched via the F1 channel, with a further 370k (2.0%) watching via Sky 1, the two numbers combined slightly higher than the total audience reported above, as Sky 1 joined the programme later at 16:30.

After a brief increase to 1.49m (8.9%) by 17:25 as Max Verstappen clawed his way through the pack, audience figures dipped to a low of 1.35m (7.2%) during the second half of the Manchester derby. Figures increased rapidly from 18:25 onwards as the final whistle blew at the Etihad, the race peaking with 1.72m (9.0%) at 18:35 as Hamilton won the Grand Prix.

Sky’s peak figure of 1.72m is an increase on their 2017 peak of 1.60m (9.8%), but down on the equivalent 2016 figure of 1.75m (8.1%). The F1 channel peaked with 1.13m (5.9%) at 18:25, the first five-minute segment after the final whistle. Sky 1’s simulcast peaked with 616k (3.2%) at 18:40, a solid number considering the channel rarely airs Formula 1 action.

Nevertheless, Sky themselves are happy with both their Brazil audience, and Mexico figures from two weeks ago. Barring any very low figures for Abu Dhabi, Sky’s overnight F1 viewing figures on race-day will be higher than what they were on average throughout the 2017 season, which is good news for them heading into 2019.

Later in the evening, Channel 4’s highlights programme attracted just 748k (9.3%) from 22:30 to 00:45, down on last year’s number of 968k (13.0%) across the same time slot, a very poor number considering the circumstances for both years were identical from a championship perspective.

Channel 4’s broadcast this year peaked with 1.04m (10.3%) at 23:05, compared with a peak figure last year of 1.38m (13.1%). A plausible explanation is that the Sky 1 simulcast resulted in Channel 4’s highlights programme losing some of their audience, but does not account for all of the differential in my view.

The combined average audience of 1.75 million viewers is the third lowest of 2018, and the lowest for Brazil on record. The figure is a decrease of 11.4 percent on last year’s audience of 1.97 million viewers.

The peak audience of 2.76 million viewers is down by a slightly lower 7.4 percent year-on-year, but is still comfortably the lowest for the Interlagos round since at least 2005, if not before.

Live coverage of qualifying on Sky Sports F1 averaged 339k (2.2%) from 16:00 to 18:35, a decrease on last year’s audience of 436k (3.7%).

What is telling is how few people are tuning in to Sky’s build-up programming. Last year, 334k (3.3%) watched their pre-session discussion, compared with just 76k (0.6%) last weekend, the heavy drop a direct result of Sky splitting their qualifying show up into two distinct segments in the television schedules.

Sky’s coverage peaked with 645k (3.9%) when Lewis Hamilton clinched pole, also down on the equivalent number last year of 743k (5.5%) in an earlier time slot.

An audience of 1.02m (5.2%) watched Channel 4’s highlights show from 20:45 to 22:15, a drop compared with the 2017 audience of 1.14m (5.4%). Both Channel 4’s average and peak figures were down in raw volume, but broadly level in share.

1.42m (7.1%) were watching Channel 4’s broadcast towards the end, compared with a peak of 1.49m (7.2%) twelve months ago.

Both combined audience metrics were down by a similar margin when compared to their race counterparts. The average audience of 1.36 million was down by 13.7 percent, whilst the peak audience of 2.06 million viewers decreased by 7.5 percent year-on-year.

The 2017 Brazilian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.