F1 bosses admit to concern at lack of free TV coverage

Lewis Hamilton poses for a selfie with a fan in Monte Carlo. Picture: Michael Regan/Getty
Lewis Hamilton poses for a selfie with a fan in Monte Carlo. Picture: Michael Regan/Getty
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Formula 1 bosses are keen for the sport to return to free-to-air television – describing Sky Sports’ exclusive deal as “sub-optimal”.

The Monaco Grand Prix, one of the world’s grandest sporting events, will be broadcast behind the paywall on Sunday.

Sky Sports brokered a 
£600 million six-year contract with F1’s former supremo Bernie Ecclestone in 2016 to gain the live television rights in the United Kingdom.

This season is the first year of that deal, with Channel 4, who screened ten live rounds in 2018, including the race in Monaco, reduced to showing a highlights’ package – 1.7million watched its coverage of the Spanish Grand Prix earlier this month.

The British Grand Prix in July will be the only race on the 21-round calendar which will be screened live by Channel 4 this season.

“It concerns us in a pretty material way,” said Sean Bratches, Formula 1’s commercial boss, pictured.

“From a brand standpoint, F1 is nowhere near the position to lose free-to-air viewership. The revenue element from pay television is very exciting and attractive to us, but from a reach standpoint it is sub-optimal. In our vision and our plan, our ideal circumstance would be to have 75 per cent on free-to-air, and 25 per cent on pay TV.

“There is no wriggle-room in our agreement, contractually. That would have to be something Sky would initiate and agree with us.”

F1 lies second only to football as delivering the biggest audience numbers for Sky – the broadcaster is understood to be reporting a five per cent year-on-year increase in its viewing figures. More than two million people tuned in to watch Lewis Hamilton win his fifth world championship in Mexico last season.

Hamilton, who is yet to speak publicly since Niki Lauda’s death on Monday, is bidding to win for a third time on the streets of his adopted home to extend his seven-point lead over Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the championship.

The Silver Arrows have dominated the new campaign, beginning the season with an unprecedented five one-two finishes from the opening five rubbers. Hamilton, 34, was also quickest in both practice sessions at the principality on Thursday.

“One of the things we are trying to do is create less predictability in the sport,” added Bratches. “I am enamoured when Lewis wins but I would love to see some of the other brands on the podium. The bottom-three teams in the Premier League know they can not win the title, but they also know that when they play Chelsea, Manchester City or Tottenham, they have the opportunity to win or get a point – that is not the case in 
Formula 1.

“We think the best days are in front of us and we have plans to make that happen. Every conversation we have, we put the fan in the middle of the table and if what we are doing does not affect the fan in a positive way then we orient back to that north star.”