Subscription broadcasters have helped to raise the standard of Formula 1 TV coverage and bring fans “far more than ever existed in the past”, according to the sport’s media rights chief.

F1 reported last week it had enjoyed its biggest TV audience in 2019 for seven years, with a cumulative audience of 1.922 billion to mark a third straight year of growth.

F1 has shifted towards more subscription TV deals in the past decade instead of free-to-air broadcasters, resulting in criticism that the sport has become less accessible.

While F1 director of media rights Ian Holmes acknowledged pay TV audiences would always be smaller, he said it was an “oversimplification” to identify this as the only deciding factor when negotiating new contracts.

“There are always commercial elements to be considered but equally as important, is to look at who the viewers are, what the demographics are, and therefore who you’re addressing,” Holmes said.

“Furthermore, pay TV often provides far more in depth coverage and I think it would be fair to say that in the likes of Sky and Canal+ they have and continue to strive to improve the overall standard of F1 coverage, bringing to the fan far more than ever existed in the past – and they do a fantastic job.

“Then there are those people who are consuming F1 content on the different digital and social channels of our broadcast partners and our own F1 owned and operated platforms and channels. These F1 fans clearly cannot be excluded.”

F1 shifted away from complete free-to-air coverage in the UK when the BBC lost its exclusive rights to Sky Sports, who established a dedicated channel for its F1 coverage.

Sky Sports currently has the exclusive rights to broadcast every session of the season live, while Channel 4 shows extended highlights for qualifying and the race on its free-to-air services.