F1 Racing Wagers On Sports Betting As 2021 Season Begins In Bahrain

Written By Brant James on March 26, 2021 - Last Updated on June 8, 2022

Long-time Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said years before selling the world’s most popular racing series that he found gambling sponsorships “unsuitable.” It was an odd assessment of values and economics for a globe-spanning, cash-consuming enterprise where penile surgery, cigarettes and Penthouse magazine have been deemed acceptable.

Liberty Media made it clear immediately after purchasing the series in 2018 that gambling partners were welcome and that leveraging its trove of data points into sports betting revenue streams was a high priority.

Months later, the series signed Sportradar as its exclusive data rights partner. Beginning this weekend in the F1 season-opener in Bahrain, it will begin providing its suite of at least 21 in-race markets to sportsbooks.

Sportradar has partnerships with numerous sports betting operators including DraftKings, FanDuel and William Hill, which could help stoke F1 betting in the United States.

As is the case with the sport in general, wagering on F1 is more prevalent in Europe and elsewhere.

Some new in-race markets were offered in 2018 but held back last year as COVID-19 created uncertainty around the season. It remains to be seen who will offer the new bet types. It will apparently take a awhile for interest to seed in the United States. Of the few American sportsbooks posting F1 markets during the opener, BetMGM was alone in listing in-race bet offers.

F1 and sports betting

Hamish Bicket, director for sports content and partnerships at Sportradar, has this to say on the state and potential of F1 betting:

“Motorsports in general, there hasn’t been a real huge interest in betting and that’s not just live betting. Betting in general. But if there is a sport that’s able to change that needle, then it’s Formula 1. Look at their global fan base. I think you’ve got around 19 million viewers on a race day weekend and 500 million fans across the world, so … a huge opportunity for us.”

Meanwhile, Dalraj Bahia, managing director operations at Sportradar, had some thoughts on converting F1’s 1.1 million data points per second, per car into betting markets:

“Over the course of a two-hour race we’re talking about potentially ingesting billions and billions of data points. And, so, with that data, so many previously hidden insights and stories can emerge. … At Sportradar, what we’re doing with that incredibly rich data is for the first time making use of it and feeding the betting ecosystem. Previously, the industry just hasn’t had access to such real-time data and analytics to provide a more exciting in race product. And as a result, the markets on offer, live in-race have been very basic, historically, where a podium finish was often about it.”

The wealth of information increasingly available to television viewers, such as RPMs, lap time or trap speeds could potentially add scores more in-race markets, Sportradar officials believe.

For the launch this weekend, the company will provide pre-packaged betting markets such as overtake leader, first to pit, first to retire – which have been available previously at other sportsbooks – and leaders for certain lap segments, and live data streams if sportsbooks wish to create their own.

PointsBet senior sports analyst Andrew Mannino is more encouraged by motorsports’ betting popularity globally and believes there is room for F1 to become a bigger market in the United States, where NASCAR, the most popular form of racing, also struggles despite the sanctioning body’s embrace of legal sports betting.

“Formula 1 is of the great sports in the world,” he told PlayUSA, “and one of the most popular betting sports in the world, basically, outside of the United States, similar to darts. It just has an audience. People love to bet on it and it gets traction everywhere else. I think there’s always an opportunity for sports to grow. I think we saw that with the rise of table tennis last year. People are interested if they see something they like. They’re willing to give it a chance. If formula one is out there in a place that people can see it, it has every chance to the world of catching on in the States.”

Photo by Kamran Jebreili / Associated Press
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Brant James

Brant James is a veteran journalist who has twice been recognized in the Associated Press Sports Editors Awards, most recently in 2020. He's covered motorsports, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball among a myriad of others beats and written enterprise and sports business for publications including USA TODAY, ESPN.com, SI.com.

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