By now you’ve probably heard of Felipe Massa’s legal challenge over losing the 2008 Formula 1 world championship. We initially heard rumblings of this earlier in the year after Bernie Ecclestone revealed that he was aware of the deliberate crash that occurred at the Singapore Grand Prix in 2008 alongside other senior F1 personnel. So, does Massa have a chance of winning this challenge? First, we will need to look at what exactly happened in 2008.
The 2008 World Driver’s Championship
If we rewind back to 2008, you’ll remember the tense title fight that saw Hamilton win his first F1 championship by 1 point ahead of Massa. Whilst any season will have its fair share of crashes that impact the result of a race, the Singapore Grand Prix marks a peculiar case that differs from your average crash in Formula 1.
On lap 14 of the race Nelson Piquet Jr., driving for Renault at the time, crashed at turn 17 bringing out a safety car and elevating his teammate, Alonso, to the race leader after starting P15. Alonso went on to win the race and Piquet subsequently revealed that he had been told to “deliberately crash his car”.
Following Piquet’s explosive revelations, the World Motorsports Council convened in Paris in September 2009. On the 21st of the month, it was decided that ‘Renault was banned from F1, suspended for two years; Symonds was banned for five years; Briatore barred indefinitely from any FIA-sanctioned event and also, in effect, banned from managing drivers.’
Well, what does this have to do with Felipe Massa?
Renault’s fraudulent fiasco was clearly devised to benefit their driver Alonso, but Massa was swept up as part of the collateral damage. The fallout from Piquet’s crash saw Hamilton jump up to P3 whilst Massa, who initially led the race, was demoted to P13 scoring no points.
This result has stood for 15 years, but an interview by former F1 CEO, Bernie Ecclestone, has turned this entire scenario on its head.
Bernie claimed that he was aware of what happened in Singapore in 2008 along with FIA President at the time, Max Mosley but they decided against taking any action in an attempt to “protect the sport and save it from a huge scandal.” Although this revelation is pretty damning evidence, it should also be noted that Ecclestone has recently come out stating that he has no memory of “giving the interview,”. In addition to Ecclestone’s unreliable statements, Mosley has since passed away making it extremely difficult to determine the validity of Ecclestone’s original statement.
The eight-page Letter Before Claim was sent to Stefano Domenicali and Mohammed Ben Sulayem on August 15 notifying the senior F1 officials that Massa wants to take this further and press on with legal action. The letter claims that Massa is the ‘rightful 2008 Driver’s Champion’ and he was intentionally cheated out of the title as a result of the F1 and FIA’s misconduct.
Could this change to future of Formula 1?
Whilst the outcome of Massa’s challenge is unknown it does beg the question, what is his ultimate goal? The letter that was sent from the Brazilian driver’s legal team notes that ‘he is unable to quantify his losses… but they are likely to exceed tens of millions of Euros.’
The wording of the letter suggests that Massa is not seeking to have the title removed from Hamilton but simply wants monetary compensation along side an acknowledgement the he would have been the 2008 champion without the crash in Singapore taking place.
The problem with Massa’s claim is that whilst he was undoubtedly affected by the Singapore crash, there is no definite way to conclude that he would have won the championship if this had not occurred. Every Formula 1 season is full of what-ifs that we will never know the answer to and 2008 is no different. If Massa had won Singapore, there is nothing to say that every race after Singapore would have gone exactly the same and therefore granted him the title come Brazil.
Massa may not be the only one
Formula 1 has seen it’s fair share of controversial title deciders and the result of Massa’s challenge could open up a whole new can of worms.
When you think of questionable championship fights there are many that come to mind such as Verstappen v Hamilton (2021), Schumacher v Hill (1994), and Senna v Prost (1990). Although each of these races differ from the other, it gives rise to the question of whether the losing driver in each scenario has the right to challenge the final decision.
Whilst some have been quick to point out that a change to the 2008 result would be “strange”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it would be wrong.
Formula 1 has recently received a lot of heat for post-race changes, most notably in Austria where 12 penalties were handed out hours after the chequered flag fell, the alteration of a 15-year-old championship result would cause an uproar on a scale that we have not seen before.
The final decision on Massa’s legal challenge should not take into account the reaction it will cause, but it could cause a ripple effect that could see us question the results of the future and the past.