The 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix was ESPN’s most-watched since 1995

Formula 1 F1 – Bahrain Grand Prix – Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain – March 20, 2022 General view during the race.

Thaier Al-Sudani | Reuters

Formula 1’s 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix drew more than a million US viewers for Sunday’s season opener, making it the most-watched F1 race on ESPN since 1995.

ESPN said the Bahrain Grand Prix averaged 1.3 million viewers in the United States and peaked at 1.5 million viewers between 12:30 p.m. and 12:45 p.m. ET, as the race entered its most dramatic final laps. Viewership for the race is up from the same race on the 2021 schedule, which saw an average of 927,000 viewers, according to ESPN.

The network used metrics from measurement and analytics firm Nielsen to report F1 viewership in the United States. Sky Sports owns the rights to broadcast F1 races in the UK.

Scuderia Ferrari and Monaco driver Charles Leclerc won the Grand Prix, earning him 26 points to start the season. Leclerc beat Spanish teammate Carlos Sainz, who finished second and had 18 points for a team total of 44 in the first weekend. Mercedes driver and British native Lewis Hamilton finished third and claimed 15 points.

This season, Hamilton is aiming for a record eighth F1 world championship after crashing in the final race of the 2021 season to Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands.

The 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix drew more cable viewers on ESPN than any since the 1995 Brazilian Grand Prix, which averaged 1.74 million viewers, according to the network. It’s been the most-watched race on any Disney-owned network since F1 returned to ESPN in 2018.

F1’s popularity and viewership has exploded in the US since the Netflix series ‘Drive to Survive’ launched behind the scenes in March 2019. The series’ fourth season, recap of the 2021 season, has become available to stream on Netflix on March 11.

The racing company set a new viewership record last season with an average of 934,000 viewers per event on ESPN channels and the ABC network – up 54% from F1 2020 races. F1 in 2021 averaged 1.2 million viewers for the United States Grand Prix in Austin, broadcast on both ESPN and ABC.

The previous viewership record dates back to 1995, when F1 averaged 748,000 viewers per race.

In 2019, before the pandemic put global sports on hold and pushed more American viewers into F1, the sport averaged 672,000 viewers on ESPN channels. In 2018, after ESPN returned the races to its programming, F1 races averaged 554,000 viewers on the network.

Formula One F1 – Bahrain Grand Prix – Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain – March 20, 2022 Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in action during the race

Thaier Al-Sudani | Reuters

F1 adds more US races

Liberty Media bought F1 in 2016 for $4.4 billion, gaining access to a global fan base of over 400 million. It trades F1 as a tracking stock under the symbol “FWONA” on the Nasdaq. Tracking stocks are used by companies to gauge the success of a particular division in its portfolio.

Last month, Liberty announced that the racing league generated $2.1 billion in revenue in 2021, up from $1.1 billion in 2020. And F1 should be able to boost revenue with a new race added to North American list.

In April 2021, F1 reached a 10-year deal to introduce a Miami Grand Prix, its second US race on the schedule. The inaugural race in Miami is scheduled for May 10. The finances of that deal have not been released, but CNBC reported that motorsports insiders estimate the motor racing league brought in between $17 million and $20 million a year from the pact.

F1 did not race in the United States from 2008 to 2011, but returned with the United States Grand Prix in Austin in 2012. The Miami Grand Prix brings four races in total to North America, as F1 also runs in Canada and Mexico.

And F1 could once again develop in the United States.

The racing company is reportedly looking to return to Las Vegas, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. It could happen as soon as the 2023 season and would be the first time since 1982 that Las Vegas has hosted an F1 race.

F1 did not immediately return a CNBC request for comment on the possibility of a Las Vegas Grand Prix.

This season F1 is due to hold 23 races, but longtime sporting director Chris Lencheski has predicted the tally could rise to 25 or more with the addition of a race in Las Vegas, another event in China and a potential return. in India and Africa. .

Lencheski, chairman of private equity advisory firm Phenicia, was CEO of sports and entertainment marketing firm SKI & Company before selling the agency in 2008. The company has formulated F1 sponsorships.

Lencheski said the Netflix series has boosted support for F1 racing, and said two potential manufacturers – Audi and Porsche – are also generating buzz.

“Both have global footprints in automotive performance. So if they come [to F1]it’s a huge corporate investment that would allow Formula 1 to expand its teams,” he said.

F1 has also increased its partnership revenue in 2021, including a deal worth more than $100 million with blockchain platform

F1’s next race – the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – is scheduled for Sunday, followed by the Australian Grand Prix on April 10.

Disclosure: Comcast owns CNBC’s parent company, NBCUniversal and Sky.