Lewis Hamilton says the drop in viewing figures in Britain since live coverage of Formula 1 switched to pay TV is “terrible business” for the sport. 

This year’s British Grand Prix will be the only race out of 21 to be shown live on free-to-air television in 2019, with Sky Sports holding exclusive rights to screen F1 races live from this season after its shared agreement with terrestrial stations on the BBC and Channel 4 expired at the end of 2018. 

8.9 million people in the UK tuned in to watch Hamilton claim his first world championship title at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, while under two million viewed live coverage of his fifth title win in Mexico last season. 

When asked about the dramatic decline, Hamilton replied: “I didn’t know those numbers. That sounds terrible from a business point of view.

“That’s definitely not cool. I remember growing up and turning on BBC and watching the grand prix, it was awesome.” 

Hamilton said he understands why fans have been deterred by the high costs of paying for a subscription to watch F1 and insisted he will continue to “utilise” any opportunity to connect with fans at races.  

“I don’t currently understand the pay TV situation, but it’s not my job to come up with the answers for that,” he explained. 

“But I do understand because it’s bloody expensive nowadays, with everything you have in a home with all your insurance and all the things that you do end up paying, and then on top of it you’ve got to pay for TV and for a TV licence, which is ridiculous, so I can understand it. 

“I’m pretty sure that number’s not going to change because the economy - it’s a difficult time for everyone, particularly now. 

“It is a shame that the fans are not getting to see as much, because the more people you have at a grand prix, the more of an atmosphere there is - it’s the fans that make this sport what it is. 

“So the more you block them or deter them, the worse the business is going to be for the people that own it. 

“But again, that’s nothing to do with me, I’ve just got to arrive and when I do get to meet people at the races I just try to utilise that opportunity to connect with them.”