On the 15th anniversary of his heart-breaking title defeat, Felipe Massa had an exclusive chat with PlanetF1.com about fighting in court for the 2008 title.
This week marks 15 years since Felipe Massa lost the World Championship at his home race at Interlagos, winning the race and the title as he crossed the line, only to have Lewis Hamilton overtake Timo Glock at the final corner on the last lap to snatch the title away just a few seconds later.
However, Massa has opened up legal proceedings against F1 and the FIA challenging the outcome at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix – the race in which Renault were found to have manipulated the outcome in their favour by getting Nelson Piquet Jnr. to crash at a time beneficial to Fernando Alonso’s strategy. Massa has assembled a legal team to fight for what he believes is “the justice of the sport” and, 15 years on from his heartbreak, granted PlanetF1.com an exclusive interview to discuss that fateful day and title defeat.
Felipe Massa opens up on 2008 Brazilian GP defeat and legal challenge
PlanetF1.com: “Hi Felipe, thanks for having a chat with us. Is it true that you aren’t going to be at the Brazilian Grand Prix this weekend?”
Felipe Massa: “I never said I’m not going! I always said I didn’t know if I was going or not.”
PF1: “Has F1 requested that you don’t attend the race, as that’s a rumour that’s been going around?”
FM: “As an ambassador, yes. As an ambassador, definitely, I was asked not to go to Monza. And Japan also, I was supposed to go but not as an ambassador. So here, in Interlagos, I was invited actually, but not to work, actually as a guest.
“So I’m thinking maybe I will go. I was invited, and have an invitation from Stefano [Domenicali] to invite me and my family.”
PF1: “As we speak this evening, it’s 15 years exactly today since that momentous day at Interlagos where you had to deal with the joy of winning the race but the despair of losing the title in such heart-breaking circumstances at the last corner of the last lap. How do you look back on that day from the perspective of 15 years later?”
FM: “I think, on the working side, it was a perfect weekend. We did an amazing weekend, me and the whole team. Everything was just perfect. In the practice, in the qualifying, in the race.
“I remember so much when I was on the grid, I could feel the energy from the people pushing me. So the noise, the people singing, screaming on that situation. In the dry, in the wet, it didn’t matter, everything was just perfect. It was our weekend, we did a perfect job.
“I think it was an amazing race, an amazing fight, I would say. I always try to use everything that I was feeling in my heart on that podium, for my people and the media, as well.
“But definitely, unfortunately, after a few months, the following year, I discovered that [Singapore 2008] was manipulated, so that really was not nice and it was not fair for the sport, but that weekend was just perfect.”
PF1: “So, with the benefit of hindsight, do you look back on that day with pride and happiness, or with a sense of heartbreak and sadness?”
FM: “I look back with happiness for everything that we did, so all the fights that we had at home, winning everything and all the time first. I think I really look back with pride on my job in that situation.
“But I look back very disappointed, you can imagine, if things would have been fair on the sport without that race in Singapore and winning at home – I cannot really believe the feeling in that situation.
“So then, a little bit after we discovered that it was a race that was manipulated, a race that changed the result of 99% of the cars that were in that race because of that manipulation, and it changed the championship. So that is the point.”
PF1: “During the press conference in Brazil today, several of the drivers were asked for their opinion on your legal proceedings, none of whom opted to pass comment. How much support have you felt for your cause from within the F1 paddock?”
FM: “I have a lot of support, to be honest, I have a lot of support from the drivers, many drivers. Even drivers that were there, to be honest. So from the people at home, everywhere I go – in the airport, in the restaurant, in the shopping mall, in the supermarket, wherever, everywhere I go, people stop me and people push me saying that I need to fight for the justice of the sport.
“So not only in Brazil, but in other countries as well. So what I’m doing is the fight for the justice of the sport, which was not fair and it was not correct what happened.
“I understand that so many people, sometimes, prefer not to speak, they prefer not to comment. Maybe because they are afraid of something related to this world, but I have zero doubt that I don’t have any help, any support, you know? I have massive support, and I really have no worries about the support that I have from the people on the road, and also in the sport.”
PF1: “Have you had any sort of communication with Lewis Hamilton regarding the situation, given that it’s his title you’re coming after?
FM: “No, we haven’t had any communication. Everything that we are doing is not against Lewis. I mean, I really respect Lewis as a driver for everything that he’s done, he’s one of the best drivers in the history of Formula One. So many records, with many titles.
“But what I’m doing is against the result of a manipulated race. At the point in the race where the manipulation happened, I was leading, I was first in that race. So it’s nothing against Lewis.
“I really like Lewis as a driver and he’s doing a lot of things for justice, so many different kinds of justice in the world. I think, one time, he will need to speak and to talk about the situation. I think it’s pretty clear I’m not doing anything against him.
“I’m doing it against the justice of the sport. When I am at home, and I see my phone after the Bernie Ecclestone interview, after the Charlie Whiting interview in the Max Mosley documentary that he knew at the last race of the season at Interlagos what happened in the Singapore race and after my son knew about it – he asked me ‘you are not doing anything?’
“So I’m doing that for justice. I really believe what I’m doing is correct because this is not acceptable. We’re not talking about a broken engine, or someone pushing me out of the race. We’re not talking about the sporting situation, we’re talking about the manipulation that changed the result.”
PF1: “What has the reaction been like from F1 and the FIA now that you’ve pushed ahead with this? Is there any sort of annoyance or hostility coming from them, or have they indicated a willingness to be as open as possible?”
FM: “Well, I didn’t really wake up this year and say ‘I need to go to court because I don’t believe it’s correct what happened 15 years ago’.
“Everything started from Bernie’s interview. When I heard that, it was massive frustration on my side. After that, I spoke to many people in Formula 1 that it was not correct. That is not fair.
“I went alone to try to get together a very big legal team in many different countries – six countries – we have a big office in many different countries. They started to study the situation, and they are very motivated that we can fight, and we are.
“There definitely is a big possibility to fight for the victory because what’s happened was not fair. So that’s why I decided to do that, I understand that sometimes people don’t want to comment about the situation, about the case, because they are afraid, as they are in Formula One. But I really believe some people will have to comment.”
PF1: “How concerned are you that, after 15 years, lots of relevant information and documentation will have been destroyed or misplaced?”
FM: “I’m not worried about that, because I’m sure there are so many things inside, there are so many things that we know already, and my team knows already.
“So many things that, if it goes to the court, it will come out. So many things related to my case, so many things not related to my case but other politics as well. We are waiting for FOM and the FIA to answer all of the documents and everything that we asked them. They’ve already asked twice to extend, but now is the last time. So, after the 15th of November, we need to have that answer, and we will decide if that’s enough for us or if we need to go to court.”
PF1: “What will represent a victory for you? Is it financial compensation, or nothing short of the world title for 2008?”
FM: “Since the very first interview, I’ve said I’m here to be recognised as World Champion. This is the most important thing for me, this is our target, this is my target that I will fight until the end to be recognised as World Champion for 2008.”
PF1: “Are you in any way concerned that your actions might lead to a precedent where other drivers decide to try legally challenging the outcome of a World Championship fight?”
FM: “I think that is a very important question because people need to understand that my case is manipulated.
“In my case, it was already investigated that that race was manipulated. Other cases are maybe arbitral or maybe sporting. If you’re talking about if I win the case, Damon Hill will win a case, Ayrton Senna will win a case from fighting with Alain Prost, Lewis 2021… But that is a different case. They are maybe arbitral, maybe sporting – one pushed the other out of the race if we’re talking about Senna and Prost, also Damon Hill.
“So this is different. This is something that, unfortunately, happens in sport, it happens in football, it happens in many different sports, but manipulation… no. This is different.
“So my case is different than all of the others. I’m not saying that I believe what’s happened with Senna and Prost was fair, no, I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that my case is different than all of the others.”
PF1: “Standing on the podium at Interlagos 2008, handling the defeat and heartbreak so publicly and with such dignity, you won over a hell of a lot of fans. Are you worried that you may lose the goodwill people felt towards you due to pursuing this legal action?”
FM: “Zero, for sure. To be honest, I always respected the people that I worked with, the people that I didn’t work with, the media, so I was always respected really a lot in Formula One.
“So, on that podium, I didn’t know that I lost the championship because of a race that was manipulated, you know? So I used my heart completely to try to show other people what I was thinking. But then, a few months after, we discovered what happened in Singapore, and what happened in Singapore was not fair for the sport.
“So, definitely, I am not concerned. I know who I am, I respect the people, I was always really, really fair to everyone. I am fair, because I’m definitely here to show that what’s happened is not part of the sport. That’s why I’m doing this and that’s why I will fight them to the end to show that what happened in that race in Singapore was not fair.”
PF1: “One final one from us, Felipe, and thanks for your time. Are you able to say how confident you are that this court case will work out for you?
FM: “I’m confident for justice, definitely. I think you need to be confident you know that what’s happened, what you’re doing, is correct for the justice of the sport.
“What I can say is that the team that is working for me is very professional. They are very confident so they believe what’s happened to me.
“It is a big case. But they are very confident, so that’s what I can tell you.”