Felipe Massa sues Formula 1 over the outcome of the 2008 world championship, Lewis Hamilton’s first title, legal action against the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone, Singapore Grand Prix


Lewis Hamilton’s maiden world championship in 2008 will come under legal scrutiny when title runner-up Felipe Massa takes the FIA, Formula 1 and former F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone to court over their handling of that year’s controversial Singapore Grand Prix.

Massa, who believes he is the rightful 2008 title winner, is reportedly seeking between minimum of $124 million and $290 million in damages comprising lost prize money and other income that would have been derived from world-championship status.

The Brazilian’s complaint relates to the infamous so-called ‘crashgate’ affair at the Singapore Grand Prix, when Renault directed Nelson Piquet Junior to deliberately crash his car to ensure victory for teammate Fernando Alonso.

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Felipe Massa, who started from pole, finished outside the points thanks to the knock-on effects of the crash, costing him six points to Hamilton in the title race.

Hamilton won the championship by one point.

The wounds of the worst cheating scandal in the sport’s history were reopened last year, when Bernie Ecclestone, who was F1 CEO during crashgate, suggested both he and the FIA had found out the Singapore race had been fixed before the end of the season.

Massa subsequently served both F1 and the FIA with legal letters in August demanding a response to his claims for recognition, but the Brazilian’s Sao Paulo law firm Vieira Rezende Advogados has revealed no agreement could be reached.

“Attempts to find an amicable resolution have been unsuccessful, leaving Mr Massa with no choice but to initiate legal proceedings,” it said in a statement.

The matter will he heard by heard by the London High Court, where Massa will be represented by King’s Counsel Nick de Marco and barrister Kendrah Potts.

“Mr Massa is seeking declarations that the FIA breached its regulations by failing to promptly investigate Nelson Piquet Junior’s crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix and that had it acted properly, Mr Massa would have won the drivers championship that year,” the statement continued.

“Mr Massa also seeks damages for the significant financial loss he has suffered due to the FIA’s failure, in which Mr Ecclestone and FOM were also complicit.

“Recent events naturally demonstrate that issues of transparency and integrity in Formula 1 remain relevant, and it is clear that serious work is needed to restore its credibility and long-term future.”

According to a statement reported by the Associated Press, Massa said he was “going to fight until the end”.

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The prospect of Massa successfully suing the sport raises potentially uncomfortable questions for Formula 1, with the result of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix sure to return to the spotlight.

Lewis Hamilton lost the title to Max Verstappen after race control incorrectly applied its own regulations, allowing the grand prix to resume with one lap remaining when it should have finished behind the safety car.

“It will certainly set a precedent,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said last year when Massa began the process of taking legal action.

“The FIA commented on the 2021 race with a clear statement. So that’s why we’re looking at it with interest.

“We’re looking from the sidelines with curiosity.”

F1 rarely ends up in the civilian legal system over sporting matters because competitors are required to accept the FIA as the highest legal arbiter as a condition of entry into the championship.

With this in mind, Wolff suspected Massa would struggle to have results overturned or annulled.

“I don’t think he has a case, to be honest,” he said. “If everybody were to open up situations, then the sport would be in disarray, especially when you look at the full-length championships — there are so many things that have an influence on whether you win or lose that I don’t see the case, to be honest.

“On the civil case side, I don’t know. Let’s evaluate whether there are some damages that could be claimed.”

Asked last year about the prospect of his maiden title coming under the threat, Hamilton was non-plussed.

“If that’s the direction that Felipe wants to go, that’s his ­decision,” he said. “I prefer not to focus on the past. Whether it’s 15 years ago, two years ago or three days ago, I’m only interested in the present.”

The reignited saga comes at a difficult time for Formula 1, which is already embroiled in several difference scandals just two races into the new season.

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem is under internal scrutiny by the FIA ethics committee over allegations of interfering in the result of last year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and conspiring to withhold certification of the Las Vegas Strip Circuit on the eve of the sport’s high-profile Las Vegas Grand Prix last year.

The unfolding crisis at Red Bull Racing also continues to dominate the sport.

The grievance against Horner was dismissed following a Red Bull probe, but the lack of transparency around in the investigation has prompted calls from rival team bosses for F1 and the FIA to launch their own inquiries into the allegations.

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The inaugural Singapore Grand Prix in 2008 was held on 28 September as the fourth-last round of that year’s nailbiting championship campaign.

Massa started the race one point behind Hamilton in the title standings and was on a charge, having won two of the previous three races.

The Brazilian blitzed the Briton for pole by 0.664 seconds and got the better launch to lead the race early, putting him on track to take control of the championship table.

But the race was turned on its head on lap 15, when Renault driver Nelson Piquet Junior deliberately crashed his car at turn 17.

Piquet Junior had been instructed to crash to benefit teammate Fernando Alonso, who had made his first pit stop three laps earlier.

Rules at the time prevented drivers from pitting behind the safety car until the field was bunched together.

With most cars having to pit for fuel, the strategy gave Alonso a massive advantage, promoting him into the leading pack from the back of the field.

Leader Massa, however, lost out in the chaos. Ferrari disastrously released him from his stop with his fuel hose still attached, forcing him to halt at the end of pit lane for his mechanics to disconnect it from his car.

He was subsequently slapped with a drive-through penalty for the incident, which combined left him 13th and outside the points at the end of the race.

Alonso’s pre-planned strategy ensured he won the grand prix ahead of Nico Rosberg and title contender Hamilton, who stretched his championship lead to seven points.

It wasn’t until the following year that the scandal became public, with Piquet Junior spilling the beans after Renault sacked him in the middle of the season.

An FIA investigation into the race found Renault chiefs Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds responsible for crashgate. Both were banned from the sport.

The inquiry found Alonso had no knowledge of the plan to fix the race.

Massa urged the FIA to annul the Singapore result, the points swing from which would have resulted in him winning the world title ahead of Hamilton, but the governing body’s International Sporting Code prevents changes to results after the end-of-season prize gala.

(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images


The saga was dredged back up last year when Bernie Ecclestone told German website F1-Insider that he and the FIA had both learnt of the scandal in late 2008, when there would have been enough time to intervene and potentially expunge the results from the record.

“[Then FIA president] Max Mosley and I were informed during the 2008 season what had happened in the race in Singapore,” he said.

“Piquet Junior had told his father Nelson that he had been asked by the team to drive into the wall at a certain point in order to trigger a safety car phase and such to help his teammate Alonso.

“We decided not to do anything at first. We wanted to protect the sport and save it from a huge scandal.

“We had enough information in time to investigate the matter. According to the (FIA) statutes, we should have cancelled the race in Singapore under these conditions. That means it would never have happened for the world championship standings.

“Then Felipe Massa would have become world champion and not Lewis Hamilton.”

After Massa raised the spectre of legal action, Ecclestone told Reuters that he didn’t recall giving the interview.

Speaking last year, Massa said he was motivated by seeing justice served over the incident.

“I would go after it thinking about justice,” he told Autosport. “I think if you‘ve been punished for something that wasn’t your fault and it’s the product of a robbery, a stolen race, justice has to be served.

“In fact the right situation is to cancel the result of that race. It is the only justice that can be done in a case like this.

“We have already seen other situations happening in sports, such as Lance Armstrong, who was proven to have doped, and he lost all the titles. What is the difference?”


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