Analysis: F1 Faces Increased Pressure

Formula One is likely to face increased pressure to prove its entertainment value for sponsors and television companies, with the latest viewing figures suggesting that MotoGP is now attracting equal audiences in some countries

Analysis: F1 Faces Increased Pressure

A recent decline in viewership of Grand Prix racing, caused in part by Ferrari's dominance and a lack of excitement on the track, allied to the surge of interest in Valentino Rossi's exploits in motorbikes have left the two series now neck-and-neck in terms of popularity in certain regions.

Although there is no suggestion of a mass defection away from F1 or a rivalry between the two categories for the same audience, similar viewing figures could leave some sponsors questioning the big budgets required to back F1 teams and television stations asking why F1 broadcast rights cost so much money.

According to the latest television figures released by MotoGP, the spectacular opening round of the series at Jerez last weekend attracted similar audiences in Spain and Italy to those that F1 have been grabbing. The two countries enjoy easily the biggest interest in MotoGP.

In Italy, Italia 1's coverage of the race attracted a total transmission audience of 11.5 million viewers. There was an average of seven million for the race with a total of eight million tuning in for the final lap. The market share was an impressive 34.4 percent.

This compares to an estimated figure of 11.3 million who watched last year's European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring - suggesting that Rossi's domination of motorbike racing is as attractive to Italians as Ferrari winning in F1.

In Spain, as well as the 127,000 crowd who attended the Jerez event, Television Espanola attracted 3.7 million viewers for the race, with a peak of 5.5 million viewers for the closing stages. These represented a 38 percent market share for the race and 46 percent for the end of the event.

This 3.7 million figure is identical to the audience that watched last year's European Grand Prix on television in Spain - although interest in F1 this season may be higher because of Fernando Alonso's recent successes.

The Italian and Spanish viewer figures have clearly been boosted by the nationality of front-runners Rossi and Sete Gibernau, because in Britain the sport still has a little way to go to catch up with F1.

The BBC's live coverage of Jerez attracted 1.2 million viewers (a 14 percent market share), which compares to the 3.3 million who watched last year's European Grand Prix on ITV.

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