Yesterday’s (12 December) final race of the season – and title decider – in the prestigious Formula 1 motor racing series was watched by a combined peak audience of nearly 14 million in the UK and the Netherlands, the home countries of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, respectively, who were the two contenders going into the race.

Despite Hamilton leading for 51 of 58 laps, Verstappen came out on top after a safety car was deployed following an incident five laps from the end, bunching up the pack and resulting in a one-lap shoot-out with the Brit on his old tyres failing to fend off the Belgian-Dutchman, who had been able to pit for grippier fresh tyres.

According to the UK commercial broadcaster Channel 4, which had agreed a deal with the pay-TV broadcaster and F1 rights-holder Sky to share coverage, the audience across the two networks peaked at 7.4 million for the decisive final lap.

The figure, comprising 4.4 million on Channel 4 and 3 million on Sky, represented a huge 59.7 per cent of audience share in the UK at the time and a record for F1 viewership on both networks.

Channel 4’s average audience for the race was 3.4 million.

In the Netherlands, where the race was shown free-to-air by the pay-television operator Ziggo Sport, the KijkOnderzoek Foundation, which tracks broadcast viewership, has reported that there was a peak audience of over 6.3 million viewers and an average of 4.92 million – an even larger audience share than for Channel 4 in the UK, at 87 per cent.

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That is also a network record, with the previous highest audience for Ziggo having been set earlier this season for the Dutch Grand Prix in Zandvoort.

Hamilton and Verstappen had arrived at the final race weekend level on points – only the second time that this has been the case for two F1 title contenders and the first since 1974.

Despite Verstappen ultimately triumphing on the track, the final results of the race and the driver’s championship may yet end up being decided off it.

Hamilton’s Mercedes-AMG Petronas team had two protests lodged after the race rejected and have subsequently informed the FIA governing body that they will appeal, which they have 96 hours to do.

If they lose that appeal, there is the option of taking their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Most significantly, Mercedes argue that race director Michael Masi did not apply the rules correctly when he allowed only the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves before the restart after the late safety car rather than all of the unlapped cars as is usually the case.

This allowed enough time for the safety car to be called in and the final lap to be contested under race conditions instead of behind the safety car, which would have resulted in Hamilton winning the race and the drivers’ championship.

Mercedes did, however, top the constructor standings.

Prior to the race, Ziggo secured rights in the Netherlands to show highlights of F1 next season, having lost the live rights to Viaplay, the streaming service run by European media giant Nordic Entertainment Group.

Ziggo’s highlights will cover the free practice sessions, qualifying and races for each grand prix.