Examined: Sorry Felipe, Lewis Hamilton would still be World Champion even with a Renault DSQ

Michelle Foster
Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, next to Felipe Massa, Ferrari. China, October 2008.

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, sits next to Felipe Massa, Ferrari, in a press conference. China, October 2008.

One can’t help feel a little sorry for Felipe Massa, had Renault not cheated at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix he may have won the race and the World title.

But Renault did, and the Safety Car that came out for Nelson Piquet Jr’s stricken Renault put pressure on Ferrari in the ensuing pit stop and they cracked, prematurely releasing Massa with the fuel hose still attached to the car.

They also released him into the path of another car as they tried to get out ahead of Lewis Hamilton, which saw Massa hit with a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release. Piquet Jr’s team-mate Fernando Alonso claimed the victory with Hamilton third and Massa point-less down in 13th place.

But with Bernie Ecclestone’s recent shock revelation that he and then FIA president Max Mosley knew that season already that Renault had ordered Piquet Jr to crash to turn Alonso’s early pit stop into the race lead, questions are now being asked not only about the race result but the championship as a whole.

Ecclestone set social media alight when he recently admitted not only had he and Mosley known that Renault had cheated, they kept it quiet and urged Piquet Snr to do the same.

“We decided not to do anything for now,” the former F1 supremo told F1-Insider. “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.”

He added: “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.”

But they didn’t investigate, opting instead to keep their silence with Hamilton taking the World title by a single point from Massa.

Presented with the trophy in the days after Brazil, Ecclestone and anyone else who knew about Singapore were effectively free to speak as “there was a rule that a World Championship classification after the FIA ​​awards ceremony at the end of the year was untouchable.”

Massa is considering taking legal action and arguing that, given the circumstances that have just come to light, in this case the 2008 standings should not be set in stone just because Hamilton has the trophy up on his mantel.

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“I think if you’ve been punished for something that wasn’t your fault,” he told Motorsport.com, “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.”

He added: “In the end, I was the one who lost the most with this result. So, we are going after it to understand all this.”

But given that one team was to blame for the cheating scandal, Renault, would it be right to cancel the entire race and erase it from the standings? There isn’t a precedent for that.

Although Ecclestone says the statutes would’ve allowed for the race to be cancelled, in the past when a team or driver has cheated only they have paid the price by being excluded from the race or championship as a whole. A race result has never been erased from history.

Michael Schumacher has two DSQs next to his name in races, excluded from the 1994 British Grand Prix for failing to take a penalty, and again later that year at Spa where he won but was found to have excessive wear on the wooden skid block underneath his car. He was also thrown out of the 1997 Drivers’ Championship for deliberately crashing into Jacques Villeneuve in the title-decider.

In all three instances only the driver was penalised for the sins committed, the rest of the field kept their results and for the most part moved up a spot.

There’ve also been times teams have cheated, such as BAR back in 2005 when the team was found guilty of running a second hidden fuel tank at the San Marino Grand Prix. That Sunday Jenson Button and Takuma Sato finished third and fifth and were excluded from the race result. The race result still stood, it just didn’t include the BAR team-mates.

McLaren cheated in 2007, the team getting its hands on a rival’s intellectual property. The season result still stood, Ferrari elevated to P1 in the Constructors’ Championship, there was just no McLaren on the log.

In all of those it was the individual team or driver who paid the price for their antics, not the entire field. So, based on that precedent if the FIA were to step in today and change the result because Alonso’s team cheated, all that would happen is he’d be excluded from the race.

That would hand the win to Nico Rosberg with Hamilton moving up from third to second, Massa would be all of 12th with his deficit to Hamilton in the standings growing. Instead of Hamilton winning the title by a single point, the Briton would win by three.

If the former Ferrari driver argued for the exclusion of Renault from the championship, after all Schumacher was excluded for causing a deliberate crash, well that too wouldn’t give Massa the title as Hamilton would benefit from that more than the Brazilian with six points to five.

Hamilton would score one additional point at the French GP as he finished behind both Renaults, P10 to P8, and two in Singapore where he’d climb from third to second, that step worth two points back in 2008.

He’d also have bagged an extra point in Hungary, fourth to third, Italy, seven to sixth, and Brazil, fifth to fourth, where he lost to Alonso.

As for Massa, he’d gain two points in Germany as he’d move up from third to second, one for Italy where he finished behind Alonso, sixth to fifth, and two in Japan where he lost to both Renaults, seventh to fifth, bringing his gains to five. Still not enough to hand Massa the World title.

While almost everyone feels a touch of sympathy for Massa – after all he probably feels twice robbed given Ecclestone’s statements and the season-ending Brazilian GP result where he was World Champion for all of 38s before Hamilton overtook Timo Glock – the end result is there is no precedent to exclude a race, only a driver or team. And if Renault are excluded from the Singapore GP or the championship, the numbers still favour Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton is the definitive 2008 World Champion, sorry Felipe.