The influence of drivers on F1's TV ratings

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    A tad late, on the back of some comment at the tail of the BBC broadcast of the Belgium GP, I’ve decided to make a topic on how we view F1 drivers and their influence on F1’s popularity.

    Eddie Jordan noted during the broadcast that F1’s ratings are 30% down in Germany, which is sadly based in fact.

    DC and Jordan got into a short discussion on why this could be. Now, it’s worth noting that their ratings are way down compared to 1994-2004 as well, the height of Schumacher’s popularity. They mentioned that Schumacher had a working class background and was viewed as a ‘man of the people’. Germans have significantly less with Vettel (although he has a pretty modest background as well) and a lot less with the likes of Hulkenberg, Sutil and especially Rosberg.

    Now, how true all of this is, is hard to say, as the German broadcaster (RTL) does not talk a lot about their ratings and the popularity of F1 during their broadcasts (which I also watch). However, I personally have observed that most of their attention does go out to the German drivers, specifically Vettel. Which is normal, were it not that seemingly, the German audience doesn’t care as much about those 4 German drivers as they did about Michael Schumacher.

    I have also noticed a major nosedive in F1 fans in the Netherlands since Jos Verstappen walked out of Minardi at the end of 2003. Stories about him almost joining Jordan made reputable newspapers, while Albers, Doornbos and van der Garde hardly got any attention in the mainstream media (although Albers was rammed down our throats in Dutch F1 publications weekly, which did him more harm than good.) With Max Verstappen, who has enjoyed the attention of some mainstream TV shows here since his karting days, there seems to be an increase in media attention, but ever since F1 moved behind a paywall, the ratings here have been abysmal.

    Another thing I have noticed over the years is the lack of outspoken drivers influencing how people view F1. I know a lot of casual F1 fans who honestly prefer the F1 of ten years ago, not because of the racing (which is inherently boring, according to them), but because there were drivers like Villeneuve, Irvine and Montoya stirring up the media. Often I’ve asked if an outspoken driver like that would make them more likely to tune in to an F1 race again, and the answer is often yes.

    Basically, I want to know if other F1 fanatics have noticed trends like these? I get most of my F1 news from the UK, the Netherlands and Germany where it does seem that interest in F1 is declining partly because of the lack of stand out personalities. But I’d like to know how this works around the world.


    I’m not sure I buy it as a reason for declining ratings. I think it has far more to do with a decreased visibility of the sport, and a lack of promotion through social media. Yes there were more outspoken drivers ten years ago, but they’re not outspoken when they’re driving, and the racing from ten years ago was abysmal compared to today. The cars lined up in order of speed, and trundled round for an hour and a half to two hours hardly ever changing position except for the fuel stops, while Schumacher won virtually every race.

    The cars were faster I guess, and the drivers made fewer mistakes because mistakes were more likely to end their race, but then that’s hardly a plus point – I think more mistakes make the racing more interesting and exciting for casuals, and the tons of overtaking we have now would have been beyond the wildest dreams of promoters ten years ago.

    F1 is a measurably better product in virtually every way today than it was ten years ago. The major difference is that F1 has been put behind a paywall in a large number of countries, and it isn’t spread or promoted in any way via social media. Casual fans aren’t going to pay subscription fees.

    The viewer numbers are massively dropping off in the UK despite there being a British driver in the middle of one of the best title fights in living memory, and despite the UK being basically the heartland of F1. The Belgian GP averaged less than three million viewers in the UK at the weekend, despite it being shown on BBC where anyone can view it. A few days later, the Great British Bake Off – essentially a cooking competition – averaged well over 8 million viewers. Nearly three times as many.


    I find very few watch F1 where I am to begin with; I’m in Canada, and with the majority of races being early Sunday morning broadcasts (and replays being inconsistent) there are very few others with whom I can discuss F1 (other than some friends who have a passing interest in motorsport, only because they are such large sports fanatics to begin with). I would think that Quebec has a greater interest, since their sports broadcaster (RDS) is much more consistent in having F1-related programming, not to mention the only worthwhile Canadian F1 drivers have been from Quebec (both Villeneuves).

    Declining viewership in Europe is a concern, since races are broadcast at more palatable times (I don’t get up early on Sundays). There’s also the fact that F1 doesn’t get a lot of exposure due to the fact that schedules aren’t always consistent (i.e. there’s back-to-back race weekends, some with 3 weeks between, then the August break) compared to NFL football, NHL hockey, etc. which are nightly/weekly and very consistent.

    I’d imagine that if there was a national icon that most can get behind (Schumacher, Alonso, etc.) then it would be easier to get the interest of the more casual viewers. That sense of comraderie between fans is engaging; the Olympics are a great example, where most viewers are only going to have a casual interest in the particular sport(s) but will cheer on their fellow countrymen/women. This is why I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a Canadian driver to enter F1, but it doesn’t look likely anytime soon.

    Having outspoken drivers, or more explosive rivalries like Prost/Senna can help draw in viewers, but ultimately it’ll be the races that have to keep viewers hooked.

    Theo Parkinson

    I think one of the main reasons viewing is fallen is because some fans are forced to watch online streams. A website where you pay a subscription directly to FOM would be great. Add in a youtube channel with full and edited classic races and then we’re getting somewhere.


    I agree with those that have said it’s the racing that keeps us watching, and little to do with what the drivers say pre- or post-race. In the late 70’s/80’s (the time I became aware of F1) the BBC would show the race only – no previews, no interviews, nothing else! If we were lucky, they might interview the winner. So ‘getting to know’ the drivers wasn’t something we were ever used to, not to the level we do now.

    It seems audiences are down because in key markets the races have gone to pay-channels. And don’t forget, TV audiences for all programmes have fallen greatly. People don’t have to watch TV for info/entertainment, they can get it via many other means and other digital channels.

    In the UK in the past, a programme with an audience of 24 million would be counted as a massive hit. Now anything getting towards 10 million is a ratings success.

    So falling audiences for F1 isn’t down to the cars, drivers, nationalities or circuits – it’s down to changes in the way we get our information and entertainment, and the platform we now use.


    I live in Finland and yes, the drivers definitely have an impact on our ratings. Formula 1 used to be hugely popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, mostly due to Mika Häkkinen winning back-to-back world championships. Some of the races pulled up to 1.5 million viewers – that is a huge number for a country with just 5.5 million residents! However, F1 moved to pay-per-view in 2007, and the ratings naturally dropped like a stone. Even though Kimi won the championship that year, the F1 boom was over. I’m not sure if MTV (our broadcaster) publishes any exact figures, but a few years ago some statistic claimed that they had some 200,000 or 300,000 subscribers. But I’m pretty sure that even if F1 was to become free-to-air here, it would not pull over million viewers. The public simply does not care about the sport that much any more.

    One of the things to keep in my is that the Finnish people love success. Basically it doesn’t matter what sport is happening, if a Finnish athlete or team is successful, people will watch it. Ice hockey is a good example of this: if Finland makes it to the finals of the world cup, the entire country goes insane. If the team drops out during the group stage, the finals do not interest the public. Another prime example was curling during the 2006 Winter Olympics: the Finnish team was rather successful, and the previously laughed at sport suddenly became the national sport, at least for a short period of time.


    I’m a French F1 fan for almost 20 years and in the country the sport’s visibility has just gone from bad to worse in the last few years.

    From no driver on the grid to no home race to pay tv, audience will never be what it was.

    The older generation won’t by a suscription to watch live a race. They’ll just get the results later, bu luck on the radio or newspapers.

    The younger generation can’t by a suscription without their parents’ agreement and won’t be able to see F1 live if they don’t have the channel that broadcasts it. I even know a 15 year-old go-kart racer who doesn’t have Canal+ and just can’t watch his favorite sport live at home.

    Remember, we have no home Grand Prix in France, so no adverts for F1, but we have a four-time world champion engine and as much as three points-scoring drivers on the grid. But you can’t love a sport you can’t see…

    The Alain Prost era is far away now and most fans here are passionate from that time.

    I (McLaren fan) managed to convert my wife (turned strictly Hamilton fan), my brother (turned Vettel/Red Bull fan) and two of my best-friends (turned Alonso and Ferrari fan) to the sport, but it’s the best I can do if FOM/FIA/Promoters does not help me and my fellow F1 Fanatics.

    The situation of F1 is critical and something must be done about a F a O and a M.
    It’s called social media and fan experience.

    GT Racer

    The thing about the German tv ratings is that unlike other regions you cannot blame it on a change to the broadcasting as nothing has changed in Germany as far as availability goes, Its the same as its been since the 90s.

    Every qualifying session & race is available live on RTL which is a Free to air broadcaster. Practice sessions are also available Live or as highlights on FTA broadcasters.
    And alongside the FTA coverage is a PayTV option via whats now Sky Germany who carry every session live with no ad-breaks & additional video options (As they have since they 1st took the F1 Digital PPV service in 1996 when they were known as Premiere World).

    In other places such as the UK there is a clear change which you can point to when explaining the drop in TV ratings, That been the Sky/BBC deal. And while every race is still shown on FTA Tv (BBC), Only about half are live, Rest are highlights.
    Its actually how it used to be until around 1995, BBC never showed every race live back then however Eurosport (Only available via a subscription cable or satellite service) did show every qualifying/Warm-Up & race live.

    Getting back to Germany, There was a big ratings increase when Schumacher came in & starting doing well & there was a small drop after he retired at the end of 2006, I’m also fairly sure there was another small increase when he came back in 2010 although I’m not 100% certain on that.

    Aside from that I do know that both Sky & RTL have done fan surveys on there website & in there coverage which seem to suggest that German fans seem to be far less accepting of DRS & the High Degradation tyres than in other places & the big drop in figures did start in 2011/2012 seemingly going along with the introduction of those factors.

    Also Vettel has never been as popular in Germany compared to Schumacher & its the same with Rosberg who many seem to not really consider to be German (He was born there but spent most, If not all his childhood in Monaco).
    Its similar with Mercedes, The team is a German brand but only in name. The team are based in the UK, The car is designed & built in the UK as is the engine. Most of the employee’s are British for both car & engine programs.

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