Oh, boo-hoo. (You can read what Ecclestone said by clicking here.)
Did fewer people watch when Michael Schumacher was always winning? Don't think so. Or Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna? Nope. How about Nelson Piquet every couple of years there back in the '80s. Uh-uh.
So although it's convenient to blame Vettel (as is the case in the U.S., where Jimmie Johnson's six Sprint Cup titles in eight years are fingered for many of NASCAR's problems), the fact that F1 racing is downright boring these days might have a lot more to do with it.
Oh sure, every now and again there's a scrap or two for the first couple of corners, but most Grands Prix settle into a predictable pattern early on and the races become snoozefests until the checkers.
I have been known - I don't like to admit this too often - to set my alarm for 7:50 a.m. on summer Sundays so that I can be awake but still in bed when the F1 races in Europe come on. I will listen to the intro and watch the first couple of laps and then I will reset my alarm for about 9:30 and go back to sleep. More often than not, when I wake up for the finish, I haven't missed a damn thing.
My wife and I went to a movie theatre to watch a race last summer - it was a fundraiser and I was glad to promote it - but I have to say I was shocked - shocked - at how quiet everybody was. There didn't seem to be anybody excited, at all. I know most of them were Ferrari fans, and Alonso (hey, come to think of it, did 50 million stop watching when he was winning two titles in a row seven or eight years ago?) and Massa were not exactly setting the world on fire at the time, but these were the tifosi in that theatre and the silence was disconcerting.
Now, it's 2014 and the turbos are back and everybody is saying there will be a changing of the guard this year but I say don't believe a word of it. There is always hype and speculation at this time of year about somebody or some team other than Vettel/Red Bull rising up for the challenge and yet, once the season gets going, it always turns out to be the same old, same old.
So don't count on a new engine formula doing the trick.
The only way to beat Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull (do you really believe that they had all that trouble at the Jerez test?) is not to award double points at the season-ending race but to find a way to help the lesser teams get to be just as good.
How to do that? By Bernie and his people assisting them in sponsor searches, guaranteeing them a certain percentage of air time during an F1 telecast so that those sponsors get exposure, and by breaking up the old-boy network so that designers and aerodynamicists other than the disciples of Adrian Newey and Rory Byrne can move into F1 and shake things up.
Blaming Sebastian Vettel for a drop in popularity, or finding a way to penalize him, won't prove a thing and will likely be counterproductive. But working to improve the competition so that everybody - or nearly everybody - has a chance of winning on any given Sunday will return dividends in spades.
Give me a race and I'll be up at the crack of dawn on Sunday to watch it. Keep giving me parades, as was the case last year, and I'd sooner slumber, thank you.
- NORRIS McDONALD