Formula One television audiences grew again last season, no doubt spurred on by the drama unfolding in the title battle between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa.

According to the sport's annual broadcast report, Formula One was watched by a total of 600 million viewers in 2008, a gain of nearly three million over the 597 million that tuned in during an equally dramatic 2007 campaign.

Italy, no doubt buoyed by Massa's attempts to land Ferrari a second successive crown, remained the leading European television market, with 37.5 million viewers in total throughout the season. Hamilton's championship-winning effort with McLaren, meanwhile, season helped UK commercial broadcaster ITV gain a seven per cent increase in total viewers, to 29.1 million, in what would be the company's final season before handing coverage back to the BBC.

In Germany, where Formula One audiences have been in decline since the retirement of Michael Schumacher in 2006, the total audience slipped behind that of France, who had only rookie Sebastien Bourdais and the Renault team to cheer, into third place in Europe with 29.6 million.

Outside the sport's heartland, China moved ahead of Massa's Brazil to become the territory with the biggest total audience - a reported 119 million compared to Brazil's 110 million.

Formula One owner Bernie Ecclestone welcomed the findings of the report, which featured eleven markets, covering 80 per cent of the sport's global audience, saying it showed the sport was in 'rude health'.

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