Felipe Massa has sent a Letter Before Claim confirming his intentions to start legal action over the 2008 World Championship, aiming to receive compensation after Bernie Ecclestone said earlier this year he was “cheated” out of the title in the wake of the infamous ‘Crashgate’ scandal.
Anyone in Massa’s position would most likely have a similar reaction, especially having come so close to a World Championship and losing out by the barest possible margin, and then to have the sport’s boss at the time reportedly say in an interview 15 years later that he should have taken the title, that would sting.
As a reminder, here is what Ecclestone is quoted as having said to F1-Insider in April: “According to the statutes, we should have cancelled the race in Singapore under these conditions.
“That means it would never have happened for the World Championship standings. Then Felipe Massa would have become World Champion and not Lewis Hamilton.
“I still feel sorry for Massa today. He won the final at his home race in Sao Paulo and did everything right.
“He was cheated out of the title he deserved while Hamilton had all the luck in the world and won his first championship. Today I would have arranged things differently.”
But when presented with his quotes again by Reuters, Ecclestone responded: “I don’t remember any of this, to be honest. I don’t remember giving the interview for sure.”
Why is Felipe Massa taking legal action against the FIA and FOM?
Renault were handed a two-year suspended disqualification from Formula 1 after the ‘Crashgate’ scandal, which involved Nelson Piquet Jr being instructed to crash to help benefit team-mate Fernando Alonso’s chances in Singapore.
Massa was leading the race at that point, and when the Safety Car came out, it prompted a flurry of pit stops, and with it Massa’s chances of points disappeared when a botched stop saw him drive away with his fuel hose still attached to his Ferrari.
Perhaps an example of the ‘Butterfly Effect’ in the race, and in the context of the World Championship, which is the case Massa’s lawyers are trying to make in pushing for compensation for their client, with the Letter Before Claim stating: “Simply put, Mr Massa is the rightful 2008 Driver’s Champion, and F1 and FIA deliberately ignored the misconduct that cheated him out of that title.
“Mr Massa was the victim of a conspiracy committed by individuals at the highest level of F1 together with the FIA and Formula One Management.”
And without satisfactory response, he will “pursue legal action in order to seek compensation for the harm he has suffered as well as recognition that, but for those unlawful acts, he would have been awarded the 2008 Championship.”
F1 declined to comment when approached by PlanetF1.com after Reuters’ original reporting, while the FIA and representatives from London-based firm Enyo Law have also been approached for a statement.
What could the ramifications of the case be?
While seeking some form of compensation for the outcome of the 2008 title, with Massa’s lawyers claiming he potentially lost out on “tens of millions of Euros” in earnings by having the added mantle of World Champion in his career, the outcome of what may happen will be watched extremely closely – particularly if it is found in Massa’s favour.
With other drivers and teams in the past having felt wronged by the outcome of title battles (Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton from two years ago in particular springing to mind, though they dropped their appeals into the result of Abu Dhabi), if – and it is a big ‘if’ – a precedent is set where a retroactive change in an outcome of a race or title is possible, other previous controversies may rear their heads again.
This is particularly prevalent in Mercedes’ case, given the admission of “human error” from the World Motor Sport Council into how the rules surrounding cars unlapping themselves were handled under the Safety Car that night, so if acknowledgements of wrongdoing come into play in Massa’s case, others may end up trying to argue for similar outcomes elsewhere.
While Massa will be hoping for what he sees as justice from his perspective, others will be keeping a close eye on how his proceedings turn out, in case they feel they could bring a case of their own in future.