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Felipe Massa

Massa reportedly begins legal battle over 2008 F1 championship. Why now?

Felipe Massa is allegedly seeking compensation for the financial implications and consequences of not winning the 2008 F1 World Drivers' Championship

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It has been reported that Felipe Massa has started legal proceedings with Formula 1 and the FIA over controversies surrounding the 2008 F1 drivers’ championship.

Massa F1 Crashgate 2008
Felipe Massa leading the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix, the race of the infamous Crashgate fiasco. (Image Credit: Darren Heath Photographer via Getty Images)

The Brazilian driver lost out on what would have been his only F1 title following the infamous ‘Crashgate’ Singapore Grand Prix. Despite winning the title decider at his home race, Massa lost the championship to Lewis Hamilton by a single point.

Reuters have reportedly seen a copy of a ‘Letter Before Claim’ that has been sent to Formula 1 chief Stefano Domenicali, who was Massa’s team principal at Ferrari at the time, as well as the Head of the FIA Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

What does Massa seek to gain?

However, the priority for Massa seems to be financial gain, rather than a change in the results, with the 11-time race winner looking to recoup his loss of earnings from the results. Therefore, Hamilton will retain his maiden F1 title.

It is likely Massa would have made more money from his Ferrari contract had he been crowned world champion, with additional sponsorship opportunities also heading the way of the winner.

Reuters quotes the letter as saying: “Simply put, Mr. Massa is the rightful 2008 drivers’ champion, and F1 and FIA deliberately ignored the misconduct that cheated him out of that title.

“Mr. Massa is unable to fully quantify his losses at this stage but estimates that they are likely to exceed tens of millions of Euros.

“This amount does not cover the serious moral and reputational losses suffered by Mr. Massa.”

It goes on to explain that Massa will “commence legal proceedings in the English courts without further notice to you” unless the Brazilian gets a response [from F1 and the FIA] he is happy with within the next two weeks.

What actually happened in Singapore?

Massa was leading the race in Singapore before Nelson Piquet Jr. purposely crashed his Renault, under instruction from his team bosses.

The crash caused a safety car period, something that played into the hands of Fernando Alonso, in the other Renault, whose pit strategy aligned perfectly with the safety car, thus setting up the Spaniard for victory.

Massa F1 Crashgate 2008
Nelson Piquet Jr. makes contact with the wall on purpose, as directed by his team bosses at Renault. (Image Credit: @TheFormulaF1 on Twitter) 

Meanwhile, Ferrari made a critical mistake during Massa’s pit stop under the Piquet Jr.-induced safety car, releasing him with the fuel hose still attached to his car. The subsequent penalty for an unsafe release dropped him to 13th place – outside of the points.

When the scandal was initially uncovered, Renault were given a suspended disqualification (for two years) from Formula 1, whilst team bosses Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds were handed bans from involvement in motorsport.

Whilst the controversy of the Singapore Grand Prix may have in part prevented Massa from clinching the drivers’ title, there were and are a number of pivotal moments throughout the course of an F1 season, including 2008 – it’s hard to argue that one specific moment is when a championship was won or lost. It’s also impossible to know for certain that Massa would have scored at least two points during that race.

However, that in itself is not the central premise of the argument in Massa’s favour. Rather, if the scandal had come to light prior to the ratification of the 2008 drivers’ championship result, there may have been recourse to void the Singapore Grand Prix altogether. Hypothetically and retrospectively, this would have handed the title to Massa.

Why now?

When the scandal first broke, Massa and Ferrari decided against legal action. If there was enough, definitive proof to hand Renault bosses bans after the event first made the news, then why is Massa only now making a legal challenge?

The idea of legal action was first brought up by Massa earlier this year, when Bernie Ecclestone admitted that he and then-FIA president Max Mosley had been made aware of what happened during the 2008 season, whilst speaking to F1-Insider.

“Max Mosley and I were informed during the 2008 season what had happened in the race in Singapore. Piquet Jr. 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,” said Ecclestone.

“Piquet Jr. was worried about his contract extension, so he was under a lot of pressure and agreed.

“We decided not to do anything for now. We wanted to protect the sport and save it from a huge scandal. That’s why I used angelic tongues to persuade my former driver Nelson Piquet to keep calm for the time being.”

What could have happened?

The controversy would become known as Crashgate, with the event potentially changing the course of the whole season. Ecclestone added:

“We had enough information in time to investigate the matter. According to the statutes, we should have canceled 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.”

This admission from Ecclestone was enough for Massa to start thinking of legal action, with the case being built on the fact that the entire race results should have been declared null and void, removing the six points picked up by Hamilton.

If Renault had just been disqualified from the race, Hamilton would have finished a further two points ahead as he would have claimed P2 on the day.

As previously mentioned, whether Crashgate did or didn’t cost Massa the title is a matter for debate. However, there is no doubt that what happened in Singapore wasn’t right, with further investigation into the matter needed by the FIA and other bodies.

Feature Image Credit: @blog_formula1 on Twitter

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