Pandemic reflected in F1 viewing figures

LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One saw a 4.5% drop in its average race television audience last year and a reduced overall viewing figure that reflected a smaller season hit by COVID-19, the sport said on Monday.

The Hungarian Grand Prix was the most watched with an audience of 103.7 million, 7% higher than the previous year, while new additions to the revised calendar also showed strongly.

Portugal, whose Algarve circuit hosted a grand prix for the first time, had an audience of 100.5 million while 98.1 million turned on for Bahrain's outer layout -- also making its F1 debut.

The average television audience per race was 87.4 million, compared to 87 million in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

"The audience figures for 2020 show the strength and resilience of our sport," said new chief executive Stefano Domenicali.

The cumulative television audience of 1.5 billion compared to 1.9 billion in 2019, when the season was made up of 21 races rather than 17.

"It does not reflect a drop off in audiences in general but is a result of fewer races and therefore fewer events to watch on TV," said Formula One of a season in which Britain's Lewis Hamilton won a record-equalling seventh title.

Mercedes were again dominant while Ferrari, the sport's most glamorous team, endured their worst season in 40 years and failed to win a race.

Monaco and Singapore, two of the season's usual showcase races, were not held as a result of the new coronavirus and there were no races outside Europe and the Middle East.

Races went ahead either behind closed doors or with restricted crowds.

Formula One said many other sports had suffered large viewership declines and the trends compared favourably to those that had experienced similar temporary shutdowns.

It also trumpeted 'impressive growth' on social media platforms compared to other major sports, with a 99% increase in engagement.

A Formula One survey of 6,000 avid fans found 72% felt the sport had improved over the past two years compared to 52% in 2019.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)

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