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Massa surprised by Ben Sulayem claims over 2008 F1 title legal challenge

Felipe Massa says he is “surprised” by claims FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem made about his potential legal challenge over the 2008 Formula 1 championship outcome. 

Felipe Massa

Felipe Massa

Erik Junius

The Brazilian driver has begun a legal process to evaluate overturning the result of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, which was won by Fernando Alonso after his Renault team-mate Nelson Piquet Jr. deliberately crashed. 

Massa lost valuable ground in the title chase to main rival Lewis Hamilton that day, after suffering a problem at a refuelling stop, and if the event is declared null and void, he would become champion. 

As both FOM and the FIA work on filing legal responses over the matter, Ben Sulayem said recently that he had discussed the matter with Massa to indicate that motor racing’s governing body would defend its corner. 

Speaking to Reuters, Ben Sulayem said: "I answered him saying 'It's up to you, you do what you think is right for you, but the FIA will have to protect themselves. 

"We have our rules, we have our sporting rules, and our statutes, which say a certain period after that you can't [do anything]... but people can challenge that. It's not the book of God." 

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, FIA President

Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, FIA President

But Massa has questioned that version of events, as he insists that he has never talked to Ben Sulayem about the matter and got no response when he messaged to say he was open for discussions. 

Asked for his thoughts on Ben Sulayem’s claims, Massa told Autosport: “I was a little surprised, because we didn't have this conversation with him. We never talked about the case.  

“In the end, I didn't have a conversation with him. I sent a message explaining the case and saying that I was available for us to talk, but he never responded to me. We never had that conversation. 

“I hope and believe that the FIA has to defend the sport. But it's not [about] defending itself, but defending what is fair and what is right for sport in general. I think that's the main point.” 

Pushed on Ben Sulayem’s remark about the FIA statutes not being the ‘book of God’, Massa replied: “In fact, our lawyers know this, that's all I have to say.” 

Massa hoped that new regimes at both the FIA and FOM would be open to right errors that he thinks were made by their organisations in the past – rather than still trying to defend what happened. 

“We understand that they are the same companies, but they are different people compared to those of the time,” added Massa. 

“I hope the people today show that things are different, so I hope that the people who are in charge today, both in the FIA and FOM, see that this type of situation is unacceptable and that they can't turn their backs on a case like this. I really hope they clean it up.” 

Sharing title with Hamilton 

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG, celebrates 3rd position in the sprint race, with Felipe Massa

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG, celebrates 3rd position in the sprint race, with Felipe Massa

Massa and his legal team are crystal clear that they want the 2008 world championship title overturned. 

Such a scenario, which would take away Hamilton’s maiden crown, seems unlikely. However, there have been suggestions that one outcome could be a sharing of the title. 

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Massa said he was not considering any potential end game beyond achieved what he thinks is justice for what happened in the 2008 Singapore GP being manipulated. 

“I think the most important thing is for us to have justice done in the right way,” he said. “The correct thing, the work [of my lawyers], is cancel the race [Singapore].  

“I understand that we are 15 years after it, but justice has to be done the right way and that is what we will fight for.  

“If justice is done and we think that this is really the right thing to do [sharing the title with Hamilton], especially because [sharing of championships] happened in other sports, it is something to be analysed. But we are going after justice and after the trophy, that's the main point.” 

Massa said that he had had no contact with Hamilton over the situation. 

“I have never spoken to Hamilton [about this] and, in fact, I see that people are very afraid to comment on the case,” he said. “But I have a lot of support, to be honest, from a lot of people who cannot speak, and a lot support from people on the street, from my country, from other countries too.” 

Abu Dhabi 2021 comparisons 

The potential challenge over the 2008 world championship has prompted recent discussions about whether or not a successful outcome could open the door for Mercedes to challenge the FIA over what happened when it mishandled the safety car restart at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and cost Hamilton the title.

Massa does not see such a strong link between the two cases though, because he says one was a deliberately conspiracy whereas the other was a mistake.

“One thing is a manipulation of the sport and another thing is an error, right?” Massa said.  

“It is like a [football] referee doing something stupid. They are two completely different things, my case in 2008 and the case in 2021.” 

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