Historically, Formula 1 had always struggled to break into the American market. That’s all begun to change in recent years, and the series continues to build its connection with US audiences. As reported by CNBC, this year’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix captured the biggest cable audience for a race since 1995.
According to Nielsen metrics reported by ESPN, the Bahrain GP attracted a peak of 1.5 million viewers between 12:30 pm to 12:45 pm, Eastern time, while maintaining an average of 1.3 million viewers for the duration. The ratings mark a significant leap above the average 927,000 viewers that tuned in to last year’s race. Notably, it was the most viewed Formula 1 race on US cable television since the 1995 Brazilian GP, which captured an audience of 1.74 million.
It builds on last year’s ratings success, too. The 2021 season saw 934,000 viewers per race across ESPN and ABC’s channels, a huge 54% leap above the 2020 figures. That number actually eclipses the ratings figures for the previous record season of 1995, when 748,000 viewers tuned in on average throughout the year.
Given the dramatics of last year’s season finale, and the promise of better racing from the new cars debuting in 2022, it’s no surprise that viewers flocked to watch the first race of the season. The race saw Charles Leclerc claim a comfortable victory for Ferrari, while Red Bull choked with a double DNF as both cars suffered mechanical failures in the closing laps of the race. In the end, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lewis Hamilton brought home second and third for Ferrari and Mercedes, respectively.
The state of F1 in America today is a far cry from its lowest point, when just six cars took the start at the notorious 2005 US GP. As reported by Motorsport.com, issues with tires prevented fourteen cars from running. A compromise that would allow the teams running Michelin tires to safely compete could not be reached, and fans in the stands were left to watch a farce of a race while being told virtually nothing of what was going on behind the scenes.
Credit for the sport’s resurgence in the US is typically laid at the feet of Netflix’s wildly-popular Drive to Survive series. Season 4 dropped just before the 2022 season began, chronicling the stories that played out during the vicious 2021 championship fight between Lewis Hamilton and upstart rival Max Verstappen.
The show has been lauded for attracting new fans to the sport, with its narrative-focused delivery and slick production values. The format serves to help guide new fans into familiarity with what can be a technically-complex and confusing sport to watch at times.
Strong ratings are an excellent sign for the future of F1. High viewership will only encourage new teams to join the sport, as well as boost advertising revenues for those already in the competition. Here’s hoping the racing keeps up to this high standard all year and those numbers keep climbing further.
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