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Formula 1 Australian GP

Massa to look into legal options over 2008 F1 title outcome

Felipe Massa plans to evaluate whether there are any legal routes that could help him challenge the outcome of the 2008 Formula 1 world championship he lost to Lewis Hamilton.

Nelson Piquet Jr., Renault R28 crashes into the wall

The Brazilian has been prompted into action by recent comments from former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who offered fresh insight into the critical 2008 Singapore Grand Prix that proved hugely costly to Massa’s title ambitions that year.

That Singapore race is most famously known for the deliberate crash triggered by Nelson Piquet Jr., which brought out a safety car that ultimately helped his then Renault team-mate Fernando Alonso win the race. 

The controversy also had a huge influence on the title battle, as the safety car triggered a botched pitstop from Massa’s Ferrari crew that dropped the then leader well down the order and he finished 13th, while main title rival Hamilton grabbed third. 

The points swing on that day arguably decided the world championship outcome as Hamilton ended the campaign just one point ahead of Massa in the standings after the Brazilian GP. 

Details about Piquet’s deliberate actions emerged in public the following year, and they resulted in Renault facing a two-year suspended ban from F1, while then team boss Flavio Briatore and technical chief Pat Symonds were also punished for their part in the events. 

At the time, Massa led calls for the FIA to cancel the result of the Singapore GP, but the governing body’s statutes made that impossible as the classification from each season is set in stone under the International Sporting Code once the FIA Awards ceremony is complete. 

Furthermore, the FIA’s investigation into the events of Singapore did not uncover any evidence that suggested Alonso and the wider Renault team knew of the crash plan or assisted in its execution, so the governing body felt it would have been unfair to change the result. 

The Ferrari pit crew return with the broken fuel hose of Felipe Massa, Ferrari F2008

The Ferrari pit crew return with the broken fuel hose of Felipe Massa, Ferrari F2008

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Ecclestone remarks 

However, Massa thinks there are grounds to review things once again in the wake of recent comments from Ecclestone suggesting that he and the FIA were aware of the rules breach before the end of the 2008 season – within the time when action could have been taken to alter the result.

In an interview with the F1-Insider website last month, Ecclestone said he and then FIA president Max Mosley knew of the situation “during the 2008 season”. 

He added: “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. 

“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 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.  

“That means it would never have happened for the championship standings. And then Felipe Massa would have become world champion and not Lewis Hamilton.” 

Those remarks have drawn interest from Massa, who says he wants to evaluate whether or not there are grounds now to take the matter further in legal channels. 

Speaking to Autosport during the recent Stock Car Pro Series weekend in Goiânia, Massa said: “There is a rule that says that when a championship is decided, from the moment the driver receives the champion's trophy, things can no longer be changed, even if it has been proven a theft.

Podium: Felipe Massa, Ferrari

Podium: Felipe Massa, Ferrari

Photo by: Motorsport Images

“At the time, Ferrari's lawyers told me about this rule. We went to other lawyers and the answer was that nothing could be done. So I logically believed in this situation.

“But after 15 years, we hear that the [former] owner of the category says that he found out in 2008, together with the president of the FIA, and they did nothing [so as] to not tarnish the name of F1.  

“This is very sad, to know the result of this race was supposed to be cancelled and I would have a title. In the end, I was the one who lost the most with this result. So, we are going after it to understand all this.” 

Massa accepts that his chances of finding any route to challenge the result are slim, but he insists that does not put him off looking into it.

“There are rules, and there are many things that, depending on the country, you cannot go back after 15 years to resolve a situation,” he said. 

“But I intend to study the situation; study what the laws say, and the rules. We have to have an idea of what it is possible to do.” 

Massa is clear though that his motivation to look once again in to the matter is not being fuelled by the desire for financial compensation. 

“I would never go after it thinking financially,” he said. “I would go after it thinking about justice. 

“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.” 

Massa said it was not uncommon for other sports to amend results many years after competitions when fresh evidence of cheating had emerged. 

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

When asked if he had spoken to his former Ferrari team about the matter, Massa said: “Not yet.” 

FIA is final court 

Felipe Massa, Ferrari F2008

Felipe Massa, Ferrari F2008

Photo by: Sutton Images

While Massa plans to look into the matter, there do not appear to be any routes to get the result of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix cancelled. 

The FIA’s own International Sporting Code does not allow protests after a race, and 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. So there are no alternative courts that Massa could use.

Article 1.3.1b of the ISC states that competitors: “Shall undertake to submit themselves without reserve to the above and to the decisions of the sporting authority and to the consequences resulting therefrom.” 

While in theory Massa could seek out the views of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), it has no jurisdiction over the FIA on issues like this. 

The FIA statutes dictate that the CAS may only be involved in matters relating to the FIA’s Anti-Doping Disciplinary Committee. 

This judicial structure within the FIA, of the final call being the ICA, was one of the reasons why Mercedes abandoned its challenge over the result of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where Hamilton lost the title after rules regarding the running of the event were not followed by F1 race director Michael Masi. 

Speaking at the time about the matter, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said that if there had been options of taking it through other legal channels, then they would have been pursued. 

“We believe we had a very strong case, and if you look at it from the legal side, if it would have been judged in a regular court you could almost guarantee that we would have won,” he said. “But the problem with the ICA is the way it is structured. 

“The FIA can’t really mark their own homework. And there is a difference between being right, and obtaining justice.”

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