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Felipe Massa sues F1 and Bernie Ecclestone over £62m in damages after Lewis Hamilton’s 2008 title win

Felipe Massa is suing Formula 1, the sport’s governing body the FIA and ex-F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone over the 2008 title won by Lewis Hamilton.

The Brazilian driver is seeking an admission that the sport’s lawmakers failed to adequately investigate the 2008 ‘Crashgate’ scandal. The subsequent impact the inaugural race in Singapore had on that year’s championship was clear after Hamilton won on the final lap of the final race as then-Ferrari star Massa missed out by a single point.

New comments in 2023, by Ecclestone, about the scandal in Singapore encouraged Massa to take legal action, with his lawyers sending an eight-page ‘Letter Before Claim’ to F1 and the FIA last August, alleging their client was the “victim of a conspiracy”.

Having not received an appropriate response, Massa confirmed on Monday that his lawyers have filed suit in London’s High Court. The 42-year-old is seeking more than £62m ($80m) in damages and an admission that the FIA violated their own regulations in not properly investigating Nelson Piquet Jr’s crash. Massa believes that if the crash was appropriately scrutinised, he would have been crowned 2008 champion over Hamilton.

Massa told Brazilain outlet Globo on Monday: “I always said I would fight until the end. As the FIA ​​and FOM [Formula One Management] have decided to do nothing, we will seek redress of this historic injustice in the courts.

“The matter is now with the lawyers and they are fully authorized to do whatever is necessary so that justice in the sport is done.”

F1 and the FIA refused to comment when approached by The Independent.

Ecclestone, 93, told the PA news agency on Monday: “If he had asked me, I would have said it was the complete right thing to do, to sue, and to let an English judge decide what is right and wrong.

“I cannot say anything about the outcome and what will happen. I have not got a clue, I don’t think anyone has, but from his point of view, it is better that an English judge comes up with a verdict. It will be of more help for him.”

‘Crashgate’ rocked Formula 1 when the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix in 2008 saw Renault’s Fernando Alonso win the race before it emerged that his teammate, Piquet Jr, had deliberately crashed to bring out a safety car that played into Alonso’s hands.

Felipe Massa (right) is suing F1, the FIA and ex-F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone (left) (Getty Images)
Felipe Massa (right) is suing F1, the FIA and ex-F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone (left) (Getty Images)

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 which 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 revealed last 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”.

He 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.”

‘Crashgate’ rocked the sport when it was uncovered that Nelson Piquet Jr deliberately crashed in Singapore (PA)
‘Crashgate’ rocked the sport when it was uncovered that Nelson Piquet Jr deliberately crashed in Singapore (PA)

Ecclestone had told F1-Insider earlier in 2023: “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.”

Lewis Hamilton beat Massa to the 2008 F1 championship by one point (Getty Images)
Lewis Hamilton beat Massa to the 2008 F1 championship by one point (Getty Images)

Last August, before the 2023 Dutch Grand Prix, Hamilton said on the matter: “I’ve got a really bad memory. 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.”

In full, a statement from Brazilian law firm Vieira Rezende Advogados read: “Mr Massa is seeking declarations that the FIA breached its regulations by failing to promptly investigate Nelson Piquet Junior’s crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix and that had it acted properly, Mr Massa would have won the drivers’ championship that year.

“Mr Massa also seeks damages for the significant financial loss he has suffered due to the FIA’s failure, in which Mr Ecclestone and FOM were also complicit.

“Attempts to find an amicable resolution have been unsuccessful, leaving Mr Massa with no choice but to initiate legal proceedings.”

Despite the start of legal action, Massa does not seem 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.

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.