Formula 1 spends an enormous amount of time talking about things it will do to improve the show for fans. Regardless of your stance on Pirelli tyres and the DRS, it has unquestionably succeeded in increasing the drama, but there are many examples where grand prix racing has failed to deliver on its promises.
Take the television coverage, for example. Off the back of some admirable ideas from the Formula One Teams' Association, a fantastic innovation appeared all too briefly. Dubbed the line comparison, it was perhaps the single most revealing piece of television in highlighting driving style and technique.
Luca Badoer, actually not quicker than Raikkonen in a Ferrari in 2009... © LAT
At the 2009 European Grand Prix there was a fascinating overlay of Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari stand-in Luca Badoer that emphatically shattered the myth that braking as late as you can has anything to do with a fast lap time. It revealed that Badoer, who was consistently a couple of seconds slower than the Finn, was actually braking later and was therefore faster from Point A to Point B. But Raikkonen was able to carry significantly more speed through the corner and get on the power earlier to leave the hapless Italian for dead and obliterate him in terms of getting to Point C quickly.
If a picture paints 1000 words, this few seconds of footage was worth 10,000. Yet the feature was quietly dropped after only a few appearances.
It was the definition of informative, accessible coverage of what is a complex sport. Unusually, it offers a huge amount both to casual and hardcore fans. Too often, F1 cars appear to be on rails when viewed on television, the differences between drivers impossible to understand. For very casual fans, the line comparison offers an immediate understanding of what being fast in an F1 car is all about. For the more knowledgeable enthusiasts, it is ocular proof of which driver/car combinations are strong in certain corners. It's exactly the kind of thing there should be more of.
That it hasn't been seen for three years is hardly the recipe either for drawing in new fans or keeping hold of the ever-more educated ones F1 already has.
Over the past 20 years, just how much has the way that on-track action is delivered changed? Granted, there has been the proliferation of onboard cameras (first seen in live broadcasts of Francois Hesnault's Renault at the Nurburgring in 1985), more timing data and live telemetry incorporating KERS and DRS-use data, but there could be so much more.
Mostly, it's what you might call the ancillary elements - features, punditry, interviews, technical analysis, that has been revolutionised. In comparison to the kinds of strides made in a sport like cricket, which for those unfamiliar with it is another highly technical sport, F1 has not kept up.
One big positive about Sky starting to cover F1 in the United Kingdom was its proven record of such innovation. Certainly, it has incorporated some excellent features, with Anthony Davidson and stand-in Karun Chandhok highlighting some interesting technique points using the 'Sky Pad', and its studio-based virtual car making it far easier to highlight specific parts of technical interest.
But what Sky hasn't been able to do is transform the live images pumped into millions of homes when the cars are circulating. And it's because there is one big difference between F1 output and that of sports such as cricket and football - it has no control over the trackside cameras and feed. This remains in FOM's hands.
As FOM packages the TV pictures for sale into the various markets, inevitably there is limited incentive for spending more money with such additional features. This highlights the wider problem of the promotion of F1. As the sport is made up of distinct entities - the FIA, the commercial rights holders and the teams themselves - it continues to lack promotional focus and investment. The 12 teams can come up with all sorts of interesting ideas to improve the coverage and recommend they are incorporated, but they have little direct influence over their implementation.
Sky has been innovative in its approach so far © LAT
It's the same with promotion in general. The teams promote their own activities and sponsors, the races themselves advertise, as do the TV companies, but F1 as a whole has not a single person specifically tasked with building up interest. It would be wrong to say simply that FOM is responsible because this is all part of a wider question of how F1 ensures it offers the best possible product.
It's a tired cliche that motorsport has to compete in an ever more crowded marketplace for eyeballs, both to get them to the circuit and to switch on the TV. Whereas Sundays were once quiet days with limited entertainment opportunities, in many countries they are now just another day of the week. This means F1 needs to work harder to keep its fans happy and grab the attention of new ones.
By definition, TV broadcasts are central to F1's success. If the coverage does not reflect the technological cutting edge exhibited by the cars themselves, then there are plenty of other sports vying for people's attentions.
Right now, the coverage is very good. But it could be excellent. And F1 and excellence go hand in hand.
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