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Why Massa's legal team believes it can "bring the trophy home"

Felipe Massa's legal challenge over the outcome of the 2008 Formula 1 world championship has prompted plenty of intrigue over recent weeks.

Although the circumstances surrounding the Crashgate controversy at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix had been consigned to F1's history books by many, it has become a hot topic again.

An interview Bernie Ecclestone conducted earlier this year suggesting that knowledge of Nelson Piquet Jr's deliberate crash was known early enough for the FIA and FOM to take action before the 2008 title was decided – something he suggested it chose not to do to avoid a 'huge scandal' – prompted Massa to suspect there was more to the case than initially suspected at the time.

Massa's belief on that was further embellished by archive footage of an interview with the late F1 race director Charlie Whiting getting a wider public airing.

In the video, Whiting had revealed that he was told about Renault's conspiracy to win the Singapore GP at the 2008 Brazilian GP, before the title was declared.

Although it is widely accepted that FIA statutes suggest world championships cannot be overturned at this stage, that is not an opinion shared by Massa's lawyers.

With the formal legal process having now kicked off, and Massa's representatives awaiting a response from the FIA and FOM over a 'Letter before Claim' notification it has sent, Autosport has spoken to one of the key players to better understand the background to the case.

Bernardo Viana, from the Sao Paulo Vieira Rezende Advogados law firm that represents Massa in Brazil, has shed light on the action and explained why the team of leading sports lawyers is convinced there is a case to answer.

And Viana is adamant about one thing: Massa's challenge is not about getting compensation for him believing the FIA and FOM had failed to act in the right way, it is about overturning the championship outcome.

"The objective is to bring the trophy home," he said. "It's not financial.

Massa's legal team believe there is a case to answer about the 2008 title fight

Massa's legal team believe there is a case to answer about the 2008 title fight

Photo by: Sutton Images

"To get there, several measures will be taken with different aims, some to obtain information and others to obtain statements.

"We want everything that happened in 2008/2009 to come to light.

"We are quite confident in the evidence we have, without prejudice to the additional ones we are looking for, and without prejudice to everything that will come to light. We understand that there is even more information that has not been made public."

Belief in a strong case

The decision by Massa to begin a legal process over the 2008 championship outcome was not taken lightly.

And, as Viana explains, it was only made after consensus was reached among many leading sports law experts that there was a case to answer.

"We assembled a stellar legal team across many areas and many jurisdictions to analyse things," he said. "We wanted to reach the conclusion if there was no claim or there was a claim. And we believe we have a strong case."

Massa's legal team includes world-renowned sports law expert Nick de Marco, who has advised and acted for several major international sporting bodies.

But there are also representatives across a broad range of expertise, including commercial and corporate litigation, as well as multiple jurisdictions. Other members of the team include:

"There are many, many lawyers involved," added Viana. "And they are the best. If you see the team, you will know that this is not a legal adventure, or something that is completely random, or baseless.

"The fact that we're moving forward shows a lot. None of those would recommend going forward without being confident that we have a strong case."

Bernardo Viana

Bernardo Viana

The time-out argument

One of the central issues at play in Massa's action is whether or not the FIA statutes provide any scope for a previous championship to be challenged.

It has long been known that there is a strict window of opportunity for when race results and world championships can be challenged, even when fresh evidence comes to light.

The FIA's own International Sporting Code says any right to request a review expires 14 calendar days after a competition, and four days prior to the date of that year's FIA prize-giving ceremony.

Furthermore, the FIA's judicial system is clear that the highest authority to make any ruling is the independent International Court of Appeal – and that any persons involved in a championship agree to abide by this.

These are regulations that Massa's legal team are well aware of, but that do not see as barriers to the case.

While not wishing to reveal too much about the legal arguments that will be put forward, Viana said: "What I can say for now, without diving into the legal technicalities, is maybe it's precisely this lack of external control that might be one of the issues."

Viana also sees no problem in the fact that Ecclestone has now suggested he cannot remember giving his recent interview, nor that the passing of Whiting and Mosley means they cannot be cross-examined.

"Irrelevant," said Viana about Ecclestone's claim he forgot what he said. "We're pretty confident with the evidence that we have. More than that, I cannot say at the moment."

Changing the race result

Nelson Piquet Jr., Renault R28 crashes into the wall

Nelson Piquet Jr., Renault R28 crashes into the wall

Photo by: Sutton Images

One of the other potential issues at play in the Massa case is that the subsequent FIA investigation into the events of Singapore 2008, which took place the following year, did not change the race result. It's therefore hard to prove that, if the FIA had acted earlier, the outcome would have been any different.

Furthermore, even if the FIA had gone as far as totally excluding Renault from the Singapore GP and stripping Fernando Alonso of his win, that would still not help Massa's cause as it would simply deliver more points to eventual champion Lewis Hamilton.

Viana believes that, as Ecclestone suggested in his interview earlier this year, the correct response should have been to annul the race result entirely or remove any aspect of it that was influenced by Renault's actions.

"We understand that the proper remedy would be the cancellation of the race, as Bernie admitted, and that he, Mosley and Whiting always understood was the case," he said.

"It was the proper way to approach the regulations. And even if they wanted to partially cancel the race, let's say count the race until lap 14 [when Piquet crashed], Felipe would have been a champion as well, based on the regulations of the time.

"He would receive 50% of the points. Felipe was robbed of 10 points that day, and he lost the championship by one. So the math is very clear."

Going it alone

Massa is currently going it alone with his legal action, as the Ferrari team that he was driving for at the time has not joined forces.

Viana said that it was not essential to its case that Ferrari threw its weight behind what was happening, as he said others within the paddock had expressed support in private.

"There are many people who are so afraid to speak up, which I think says a lot," he explained.

"We're not going to wait for Ferrari to back us, but we of course would welcome their support because they lost the title with us.

"I think the tifosi made their statement very clear at Monza [with a Felipe 2008 champion banner]. Felipe receives many messages from the tifosi, through social media, and through former employees every time he's in touch with them.

"It will be only natural for Ferrari to support this because Felipe won the 16th drivers' championship for Ferrari. But of course, we're not going to wait on that, we're moving forward with or without."

Felipe Massa at the Italian GP

Felipe Massa at the Italian GP

Viana clarified that there had been no contact with Hamilton nor his representatives, but was clear that the action over the 2008 outcome was not aimed at the Briton.

"Felipe has nothing against Hamilton, absolutely nothing," he said. "This case is against what was done by the previous leadership at FOM and FIA. We have nothing against Hamilton."

What comes next?

Massa's legal team is currently waiting for a response from the FIA and FOM over matters relating to the case.

An original deadline of this Friday for answers to be given before potential legal action in the British High Court commences is on hold, as discussions continue over a realistic timeframe.

"They have asked for more time, and we are assessing internally if we're going to give them more time in good faith," added Viana.

"They are still within the time that we have offered them, so we are waiting for their response. If their response is adequate, and if they approach us for any conversation, that's OK.

"If it is not, if their response is not adequate, we're just going to move forward with the legal strategy that we have in place."

Finding out the truth

Viana has also reiterated his belief that the truth of what happened in 2008 and 2009 will come out as part of the process surrounding the legal action.

"Once the lawsuits are through, there'll be no back-channel negotiation, or conversation that happened in 2008 and 2009 by any and all stakeholders that will remain hidden," he declared.

"All of that will come to light. So, anyone that defrauded the sport, the fans, Felipe, Brazil, Italy, or anyone that failed to comply with their legal or contractual duties, that will be public for everyone to see.

"No stone will be left unturned. I think the discovery part of these lawsuits is going to be very interesting."

The FIA and FOM have so far declined to comment on the Massa case while the legal process is under way.

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