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How the FIA found out about Crashgate at Brazil 2008 F1 finale, but could not act

Felipe Massa’s revelation that he plans to see if there are legal avenues to challenge the 2008 Formula 1 world championship outcome has re-opened intrigue over that year’s Crashgate controversy. 

Nelson Piquet Jr., Renault F1 Team R28 crashes into the wall

Massa’s actions have been prompted by recent comments from former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone regarding the fall-out from Nelson Piquet Jr’s deliberate crash in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix that helped his Renault team win. 

Ecclestone suggested that both he and then FIA president Max Mosley knew about the infamous incident during the 2008 season – so had time to respond before the world title was awarded. 

In an interview with the F1-Insider website published last month, Ecclestone had said: “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.  

“Back then, there was a rule that a world championship classification after the FIA ​​ awards ceremony at the end of the year was untouchable. So, [Lewis] Hamilton was presented with the trophy and everything was fine.  

“We had enough information in time to investigate the matter. According to the statutes, we should have cancelled the race in Singapore under these conditions.” 

Ecclestone’s comments have hinted at a potential cover-up to protect F1 from negative headlines – and are enough for Massa to feel he needs to pursue the matter further. 

For the Brazilian would have every right to feel aggrieved that, if the FIA did know about it during 2008 when the results of that season could have been changed, then why was it not investigated immediately?

A lot of the answer to that question interestingly cropped up a few years ago when Mosley and former F1 race director Charlie Whiting were interviewed for the documentary film Mosley: It’s Complicated, which was released in 2021. 

Review: How the Max Mosley movie delivers on his complicated contradictions

While many of their words did not make it in to the film’s final cut, Autosport did see the full-length interviews at the time – and they confirm when the FIA did first know about the matter, and why nothing was done at the time. 

Brazilian GP confession

Felipe Massa won the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, but it wasn't enough for the title

Felipe Massa won the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, but it wasn't enough for the title

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

The revelation that Nelson Piquet Jr did crash deliberately at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix was first told to Whiting at that year’s Brazilian GP – the scene of the title showdown between Massa and Hamilton. 

As Whiting, who passed away in 2019, explained: “There were a few conspiracy theories after the race, but nothing of any great substance. 

“But it was in Brazil, and I was talking to Nelson Piquet [Sr]. I was his mechanic for a number of years, and we'd remained good friends.  

“He came to see me in my office, and we were having a chat. And then, all of a sudden, he shut the door.  

“He held his foot against the door, so no one could come in, and then told me about what happened in Singapore. It was aimed at Flavio [Briatore] because, basically, the essence of what he was saying was that: 'Flavio made my boy crash.' 

“I said, ‘wow, this is pretty serious stuff'. I don't know who else he had told but he just said, 'keep it to yourself'. In doing that, he would have known that I would tell Max.” 

Whiting’s version of events was backed up by Piquet Sr himself at the time, who confirmed to investigators in 2009 when he first informed Whiting. 

“In Brazil I talk to Charlie,” Piquet was quoted as saying. “I got him and I said 'look, what could happen to Nelson if I bring this up?' And I was afraid to screw up the career of Nelson." 

The lack of evidence

Charlie Whiting, the-then FIA Race Director, was told about Crashgate by Nelson Piquet Sr

Charlie Whiting, the-then FIA Race Director, was told about Crashgate by Nelson Piquet Sr

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

While Whiting did tell Mosley about what Piquet had said, the FIA steered clear of launching a formal investigation straight away.

Reflecting on the reasons for that, Mosley, who was a former barrister, said that despite Piquet Sr’s word, the FIA could not launch charges because there was no concrete proof that Piquet had been told to crash deliberately. 

“This [Piquet’s chat to Whiting] confirmed what I suspected and it also confirmed what a lot of other people suspected,” Mosley told the film makers. “But of course, I said nothing to anyone. There was no evidence.  

“Then Nelson Jr was fired by the team [in the summer of 2009]. Nelson Sr came to see me in Monaco, and told me the story. I didn't say I already knew this, I just said that this is terrible.” 

Mosley explained that it was then he recruited senior investigators to interview Piquet Jr for a formal statement on what happened. But even with that, he felt even that was not enough to launch action. 

“We had the statement, the signed statement from him,” added Mosley. “But of course that wasn't nearly enough because I knew that, even if I produce this statement with the whole story, and Nelson Jr gave evidence, the defence would be: 'We just fired him. He's just being spiteful. He just trying to cause trouble'.” 

Spa interviews 

Alonso had benefitted from Piquet Jr's crash in Singapore

Alonso had benefitted from Piquet Jr's crash in Singapore

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Mosley said it was only after the FIA sent the investigators and lawyers to the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix to interview representatives of the Renault team that the governing body finally had enough to work on. 

He added: “[They were] smuggled into the paddock, because I knew that nobody had to know, not even Bernie, that they were there. Because if Flavio found out, he could have shut the whole thing down.” 

While those Spa interviews eventually convinced the FIA it had enough to take it to the FIA World Motor Sport Council, they also offered some early insight into just how much Alonso knew. 

As Mosley said: “The first person they summoned was Alonso, and he denied all knowledge of what had happened.  

“A lot of people probably think that Alonso knew, but it's interesting that the chief superintendent who had enormous experience at interrogating people, he told me he was convinced Alonso was telling the truth. So that was fine. 

“But then the next one they summoned was Pat Symonds, because he was one of the four people who had been involved.  

“And Pat, of course, is a completely honest person. So, when he was asked the obvious question, he said, ‘I can't answer that question.’  

“Of course, the minute he said that, that was as good as a confession. So we then summoned Flavio in front of the World Council and the rest is sort of history. They were banned and so on.” 

While it is clear that the FIA wanted to make sure it had all the evidence it needed before taking action, for Massa, the real question right now will be whether he believes motor racing's governing body could have acted sooner when it first got wind of what had happened.

Massa is looking at legal avenues to have the 2008 result overturned

Massa is looking at legal avenues to have the 2008 result overturned

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

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