David Coulthard Fears Lack of Free-to-Air TV Will Heavily Impact Formula 1 in UK


David Coulthard - Canada GP
Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

Former Formula 1 driver and Channel 4 pundit David Coulthard fears Formula 1‘s audience in the UK will decline when the sport goes exclusive with Sky Sports next year.

Sky Sports F1 will be the exclusive home of F1 for UK and Ireland viewers from 2019 onwards as the subscription-based service will start their new six year deal. The deal Sky Sports F1 signed to have the exclusive rights of F1 were done with FOM‘s former CEO, Bernie Ecclestone and previous owners CVC.

The move will see the end of free-to-air live coverage for the sport, but Sky will allow non-subscribers watch the British Grand Prix free as part of the deal constructed back in 2016.

Sky share their broadcasting rights with Channel 4 but their end of the agreement will cease at the end of the year. But former McLaren F1 driver David Coulthard isn’t happy with the rights going to a paid subscription service.

Speaking on the Motor Sport Podcast, Coulthard feels strongly around the issue and jokingly said he plans a protest to F1’s owners Liberty Media over the TV rights.

“I’m planning a march to the Liberty  offices at the end of the year, and I’m going to get all the Formula One fans to hunker down outside the building and we are not going to leave until they put Formula One back on free-to air television.” Coulthard said jokingly but in a serious tone.

The Scotsman is however, is serious about his belief over the move and thinks it’ll negatively impact the sport when they move to Sky next year.

“I grew up watching it, but back then there was only three channels. Nowadays there are so many more options and stimulations for youngsters…When you reduce the window of opportunity to capture them, then you are just going to shrink the audience.” Coulthard continued.

Sports such as Golf and Cricket recently moved to paid subscription TV but have suffered a reduction in fan engagement, evidence that Coulthard’s concerns are real if F1 follows that direction.

“There will still be the hardcore fans, Sky do a fantastic job with a dedicated channel so there’s no fears in terms of how well served the sport will be, but there will be a smaller audience. It’s a shame for Britain. This is the home of motor racing,

“We are too modest, we don’t shout enough about how great our engineering is. People want to come and work here. We have seven teams based here. It’s a huge industry and generator of income for the UK economy. If people aren’t seeing the sport, then maybe we lose them to other industries.”

Coulthard however does believe there is bound for a change. With Liberty Media recently pushing F1’s social media profile since their takeover, the recent introduction of F1TV for online viewers and race promoters complaining over the cost of hosting an F1 race – making it possible for the value of TV rights will fall.

“The revenue from Sky is huge. It does benefit the sport and the teams. Business is business. But the traditional broadcast model of television companies paying those big numbers has peaked.”