Felipe Massa, driving for Ferrari at the time, is seeking substantial damages after the inaugural race in Singapore and the subsequent impact it had on that year’s championship, won by Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the final race as Massa missed out by a single point.
New comments earlier this year, by former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, about ‘Crashgate’ encouraged Massa to take legal action, with his lawyers sending an eight-page ‘Letter Before Claim’ to F1 and the FIA in August, alleging their client was the “victim of a conspiracy”.
Todt, whose 12-year reign as FIA president started in 2009, admits now that the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix was indeed “rigged” and, much to Massa’s dismay no doubt, the race results should have been wiped.
“For him [Massa], psychologically, it was very hard,” Todt told Italian outlet La Stampa.
“Maybe we [the FIA] could have been tougher when the story came out.
“There is no doubt that the Singapore Grand Prix was rigged and should have been cancelled.”
Ecclestone revealed in March that both he and then-FIA president Max Mosley knew of the ‘Crashgate’ scandal in 2008 but refused to publicise the chain of events to avoid the sport a “huge scandal”.
WHAT WAS CRASHGATE?
Crashgate rocked F1 when the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix saw Renault’s Fernando Alonso win the race before it emerged that his teammate Nelson Piquet Jr had deliberately crashed on the instructions of his team to bring out a safety car that played into Alonso’s hands.
That safety car prompted a Massa pit stop that Ferrari mishandled, with Massa eventually finishing the race 13th while Hamilton came home third – a difference of six points, a swing that ultimately impacted the title result.
While Renault and team boss Flavio Briatore were punished in 2009, the result of the race stood despite Massa’s protestations, with the FIA’s statutes making clear that overturning the classification from each season is impossible once the FIA Awards Ceremony for that year is complete, a rule set in the FIA International Sporting Code.
Ecclestone, 93, has since said he could not remember saying the key lines, telling Reuters: “I don’t remember any of this, to be honest. I don’t remember giving the interview for sure.”
A letter from Massa’s lawyers in August says the Brazilian has lost out on tens of millions of euros in lost earnings and bonuses as a result of missing out on the 2008 title.
The new furore surrounding the 2008 title was triggered after Ecclestone told F1-Insider earlier this year: “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 ââawards 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.”
Hamilton, when asked about the matter before August’s Dutch Grand Prix, remained tight-lipped. “I’ve got a really bad memory,” he said. “I’m really just focused on the here and now and helping the team get back to the championship. I’m not focused on what happened 15 years ago.”
Despite the threat of legal action, Massa does not seem to be able to officially overturn the result – with the FIA’s own International Sporting Code stating protests and reviews expire 14 days after a competition and four days prior to that year’s prize-giving ceremony.
He also cannot use the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which has no jurisdiction over the FIA on issues like this, with the independent International Court of Appeal the highest authority in the sport.
CAS may only be involved in F1 matters relating to the FIA’s Anti-Doping Disciplinary Committee.
Massa’s best finish in F1 turned out to be that 2008 season as he retired in 2017, while Hamilton has gone on to win six more titles with Mercedes, holding the joint-record of seven F1 World Championships with Michael Schumacher.