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Why has Felipe Massa launched legal action against F1? Everything explained

Felipe Massa’s legal action over the 2008 Formula 1 world championship shows little signs of ending, so here is everything that has happened so far.

Felipe Massa in the paddock

While Lewis Hamilton is chasing a record-breaking eighth Formula 1 world championship, Felipe Massa could make things more difficult for the Mercedes driver.

He has partnered with lawyers to contest a 15 year old result where Hamilton pipped Massa to the 2008 F1 crown.

Massa, now retired, feels the FIA and Formula One Management failed to act on knowledge they had about the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix which left the championship’s reputation damaged.

The race proved to have an influential outcome on that year’s title, which was Hamilton’s first in F1, and Massa’s only genuine shot at a world championship in his career.

2008 F1 season

All eyes at the start of the season were on young hotshot Hamilton, then 23, after driving a legendary rookie campaign in 2007.

The McLaren driver led the championship during the year, but lost it in the final two races. First, Hamilton retired in China after beaching his car in the gravel as he struggled with worn out tyres on a day he could have clinched the title.

Next, he finished seventh in Brazil at the season finale, after a poor opening lap dropped him from second to eighth, which opened the door to his rivals. Kimi Raikkonen was the one to pounce, as the Ferrari driver won both of those grands prix to clinch the title by one point with Hamilton and Fernando Alonso on the same tally in second and third.

So, in 2008 it was up to Hamilton to bounce back and seal the championship. After a very strong performance in pre-season testing, there was a feeling that he would be fighting for the title again. That became more evident when Hamilton won the season opening Australian Grand Prix.

But the next four races proved it was not going to be so easy. Ferrari won all four, with reigning champion Raikkonen and Massa winning two apiece, while Hamilton stood on the podium just twice.

Felipe Massa, Ferrari F2008,  leads Lewis Hamilton, McLaren MP4-23 Mercedes,  and Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber F1.08

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Felipe Massa, Ferrari F2008, leads Lewis Hamilton, McLaren MP4-23 Mercedes, and Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber F1.08

After five races, Raikkonen led the standings by seven points with Hamilton and Massa tied in second and third. However, Hamilton regained the championship lead at the next race as he won the Monaco Grand Prix with Massa in third and Raikkonen outside of the points.

It started a good run of form for Hamilton who won two of the next five races to lead the championship at the summer break. Things were still very tight at the top, though, as both Ferrari drivers were within 10 points of him.

But the next three races after the summer break proved significant for the direction of the 2008 F1 championship fight. Raikkonen failed to score any points so he very quickly fell out of contention, while Massa won two races to Hamilton’s none.

The McLaren driver did, however, stand on the podium twice so he led Massa by just a single point going into Singapore, the season’s 15th round, while Raikkonen had dropped to fourth in the standings.

2008 Singapore Grand Prix

Massa was in prime position to clinch a third victory in four races which would have put him top of the standings. In Singapore, the championship protagonists lined up on the front row and Massa led from pole position out of the first corner.

It was the Ferrari driver’s dream start, as he continuously extended his lead on Hamilton over the opening laps. Then it all came tumbling down on lap 14 when Renault’s Nelson Piquet Jr crashed at Turn 17.

At the time eyebrows were not raised and Massa, like many others, pitted under safety car conditions. However, Ferrari released him from his pitbox prematurely as the fuel hose was still in Massa’s car, so he later stopped at the pit exit to get it removed.

The botched pitstop dropped Massa to last place. It soon got worse because he was then penalised for an unsafe release, as during the madness Ferrari put Massa from his pitbox into the path of Adrian Sutil.

It ruined Massa’s race and he finished outside of the points. One driver to benefit from the safety car was Piquet’s team-mate, Alonso. When Piquet crashed, Alonso was languishing in last after making a pitstop. But, during the safety car he rose to fifth before taking the race lead soon after when drivers ahead either pitted or served penalties.

Fernando Alonso celebrates victory on the podium alongside Nico Rosberg, 2nd position, and Lewis Hamilton, 3rd position.

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Fernando Alonso celebrates victory on the podium alongside Nico Rosberg, 2nd position, and Lewis Hamilton, 3rd position.

He later won the race ahead of Nico Rosberg, with Hamilton completing the podium. At the time, fans were none the wiser about the scandal that had just unfolded. F1 was instead praising Singapore for its excellent debut on the calendar and the season carried on as normal.

2008 F1 season after Singapore

The Singapore GP extended Hamilton’s lead over Massa to seven points with three races remaining. However, the rivals collided at the next race. Hamilton started on pole in Japan, but locked up at the first corner.

By the end of lap one he had dropped to sixth after going off several times and the next tour, he was fighting Massa for fifth.

The two were wheel-to-wheel at Turn 10, where Hamilton had briefly got ahead on the inside until Massa’s front right tyre hit the McLaren’s rear left at the corner’s exit. It caused Hamilton to spin and drop outside of the points.

Massa was given a drive-through penalty as a result, which is the same sanction Hamilton received for his lock up at Turn 1 which forced Raikkonen off the track on the lap prior. The Ferrari driver recovered from the penalties better, as he climbed up to seventh while Hamilton finished outside of the points. It all got heated between the two drivers post-race, as Hamilton accused Massa of deliberately hitting his car.

That result reduced Massa’s deficit to five points. However, Hamilton took it back up to seven at the following race as he dominated the 2008 Chinese Grand Prix ahead of Massa in second. This all set up a thrilling season finale in Brazil.

Massa won the race by 13 seconds, while Hamilton’s outing was much less straightforward. He started fourth and spent most of his race battling for the final podium position.

Light rain then fell on lap 63, so Hamilton came in for intermediate tyres while others stayed out on slicks. It dropped Hamilton to fifth, the lowest he could finish to clinch the title, before losing another position with two laps left as Sebastian Vettel went through when the McLaren driver ran wide amid heavier rain.

But, in the most dramatic of circumstances Hamilton sealed the championship. Timo Glock, who was still on dry tyres, went wide at the final corner which opened the door for Hamilton to go through and clinch fifth on the final lap.

It silenced the Ferrari garage, who had celebrated prematurely thinking there was no way for Hamilton to win the title.

Nelson Piquet Jr., Renault R28 crashes into the wall

Photo by: Sutton Images

Nelson Piquet Jr., Renault R28 crashes into the wall

When Nelson Piquet Jr exposed Renault

Thinking Singapore was just another race, F1 only looked forward. The sudden demise of Honda is what took the headlines over winter, as it quit the series amid the global economic crisis.

Then, during the 2009 summer break, Renault dropped Piquet and within a month it all spilled out.

Piquet alleged that the team asked him to deliberately crash in Singapore, so that it could improve Alonso’s race. He also said that he specifically crashed at Turn 17, because it was one of the corners that didn’t have a crane nearby. This meant a safety car would be needed, which allowed Alonso to catch out the rest of the pack.

Renault did not contest charges against them and it tarnished their reputation. Major sponsors walked away, which led to the French manufacturer leaving F1, while Alonso, who had no knowledge of the Piquet crash plan, joined Ferrari in 2010.

However, despite the scandal, the race result in Singapore remained and ‘crashgate’ is something that massively benefitted Hamilton.

Why is Felipe Massa launching legal action against F1 now?

Massa launched legal action after ex-F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone was asked about the matter early in 2023. He implied F1 already knew what happened, but ruled against taking action to protect the F1’s reputation.

Ecclestone added that had F1 taken action right away, then statutes say null and voiding the race was an option which would have removed the six points that Hamilton gained. Another option, however, may have been to disqualify Alonso. But, this would have moved Hamilton up to second, adding to Massa’s detriment.

However, Ecclestone said a different statute was partly behind them not doing that. Rules state that once the post-season FIA Awards ceremony is complete, then the classification from each session that campaign is set in stone.

So F1 wanted to get to that point before anything unravelled said Ecclestone, who reportedly told Piquet to remain silent for the time being.

Bernie Ecclestone visits the paddock

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Bernie Ecclestone visits the paddock

What is Felipe Massa trying to achieve with his lawsuit against F1?

There are many suggestions of why Massa is doing this. Ecclestone said he is purely seeking compensation charges but Bernardo Viana, from the law firm representing Massa, insisted that is not the case.

Massa’s lawyer has said “the objective is to bring the trophy home” and nothing more. Viana believes there are various ways in which this can happen, where one would be to null and void the race as Ecclestone admitted.

Viana also suggested to count the race until lap 14, when Piquet crashed. If that were to happen, Massa would receive half points for a race victory as per the sporting regulations at the time.

However, Massa himself has previously said that he’s happy to share the championship with Hamilton citing examples in other sports for his reason.

Has Felipe Massa spoken to Lewis Hamilton about his lawsuit against F1?

Massa confirmed that he has not spoken to Hamilton about the situation. In fact, Hamilton has removed himself from it saying he is only interested in the present.

That is despite Massa’s legal team publicly asking for Hamilton’s support, even though it is his crown they are disputing. Massa’s side have also asked for Ferrari’s support which is something the Scuderia has not done so at the moment, the ex-F1 driver is going it alone with his legal action.

What will happen next in Felipe Massa’s lawsuit against F1?

Massa’s legal team are currently waiting on a response from the FIA and FOM regarding parts of the case. It is believed, for now, they have until 15 November.

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

“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.”

PLUS: Why precedent doesn’t favour Massa’s F1 legal challenge

An emotional Felipe Massa proudly slaps the Prancing Horse insignia on his chest as he celebrates victory and a well fought season in front of his home fans.

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

An emotional Felipe Massa proudly slaps the Prancing Horse insignia on his chest as he celebrates victory and a well fought season in front of his home fans.

What could this mean for Formula 1?

There is concern over the precedent it would set if Massa were to be awarded a title, especially to the detriment of Hamilton.

This is because the seven-time champion missed out on an eighth in 2021 under controversial circumstances.

He was five laps away from winning until a late safety car struck, where race director Michael Masi told only the lapped cars between Hamilton and championship rival Max Verstappen to unlap themselves. This overruled the standard procedure for a restart, because other lapped cars were not told to do so, despite what the regulations say.

It aided the Red Bull driver who overtook Hamilton before sealing his maiden title that night in Abu Dhabi. For this, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is not taking Massa’s claim seriously because if F1 were to award him the championship, then it would open up a can of worms.

There is belief that Mercedes could then go to F1 and argue for Hamilton to be awarded the 2021 crown. But that is not all.

Questions could perhaps be asked over several other F1 world titles; including the 1990 F1 championship, when Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost crashed out which made Senna champion, the 1994 F1 season for Benetton and even the 1981 F1 season for Brabham.

So if Massa is successful, then that would surely leave the room for other controversial results in F1’s history to be questioned and even overturned. It is therefore unlikely for F1 to award Massa a world championship victory.

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