The extraordinary concluding race of this most extraordinary of Formula 1 seasons wrote a strong final chapter to a season of growth for the sport’s U.S. TV audience on ESPN’s networks.
Last Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on ESPN2 averaged a 0.55 Nielsen rating and 963,000 viewers. That was a huge increase from the 0.31/523,000 that watched last year’s race, which admittedly came after the title battle had been decided. It was up from the 0.51/923,000 for the previous week’s Saudi Arabian GP, also on ESPN2.
With races airing on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2, the F1 season averaged 934,000 viewers per race in 2021, shattering the previous season record average of 748,000 that was set in 1995. It was up 54 percent over the 2020 season average of 608,000 viewers and up 39 percent vs. the 2019 season average of 672,000 viewers. The season average numbers do not include coverage of the rain-aborted Belgian GP.
The Oct. 24 United States Grand Prix at COTA had the season’s largest audience, averaging 1.2 million viewers on ABC. It was the most-viewed race since ESPN re-acquired Formula 1 rights prior to the 2018 season and the average viewership was up 42 percent from the previous USGP in 2019.
The June 20 French GP on ESPN attracted an average audience of 1.1 million viewers, making it the second-largest F1 cable audience on record, second only to ESPN’s telecast of the 1995 Brazilian Grand Prix (1.7 million). Seven of this year’s races joined the all-time top 10 for U.S. audiences for F1 races on cable, while the Abu Dhabi finale was among several 2021 races that had the largest U.S. television audience ever for their events.
F1 will be return to ESPN Networks again in 2022, beginning with the Bahrain Grand Prix March 18-20.