The ‘problem’ that makes Felipe Massa’s F1 2008 title claim ‘difficult to argue’

Oliver Harden
Felipe Massa with tears in his eyes at the end of the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix with a prominent Ferrari logo alongside him

Felipe Massa cut a highly emotional figure after missing out on the 2008 title at his home race at Interlagos

F1 commentator Peter Windsor fears Felipe Massa’s “messy” race at the Singapore Grand Prix could prove a “problem” in his legal challenge against the F1 2008 World Championship.

It emerged this week that Massa had commenced legal proceedings against Formula 1, its governing body the FIA and former F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone over the outcome of the 2008 Championship.

Felipe Massa’s big ‘problem’ identified in F1 2008 legal challenge

Massa lost the title by a single point to Lewis Hamilton at a thrilling title decider in Brazil, which came five weeks after the infamous ‘Crashgate’ incident in Singapore, where Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jr crashed deliberately to help team-mate Fernando Alonso win the race.

Ferrari driver Massa had comfortably led the race from pole position until the moment of Piquet’s retirement, but finished 13th after leaving his pitbox with the fuel hose still attached during the ensuing Safety Car period.

Massa’s lost points to Hamilton, who finished third beyond Alonso and Nico Rosberg at Marina Bay, would prove crucial just weeks later at Interlagos.

Speaking via a recent YouTube stream, former title-winning Williams team manager Windsor fears Massa’s poor race in Singapore could ultimately count against him in his case against Formula 1, the FIA and Ecclestone.

He said: “The problem Felipe is going to have in this case, I think, is that his race was messed up by the fuel stop he made as a result of that Safety Car intervention: the fuel line became detached from the Ferrari rig and he went down the pit lane with half of it hanging out the back of the car.

“It wasn’t a good race.

“If he had finished second or something, if he hadn’t had such a messy race, maybe he’d have more chance of that race possibly being disqualified.

“But I think it’s going to be difficult for them to argue that the race should be taken off the Championship, bearing in mind they had those errors on their side which you could argue would have happened anyway, but that’s not really the point.

“The point is that Lewis finished third and got points in a race that was a rigged race and they’re saying that race should then have been deleted from the World Championship.

“I think that’s quite big news and I think that’s quite an interesting precedent for what we may see in some other race results.”

Windsor is supportive of Massa’s legal action, refuting the suggestion that the Brazilian is motivated by financial gain as Matt Bishop, the former McLaren communications director, claimed this week.

And he believes the case of his former Ferrari team-mate Michael Schumacher, who was allowed to keep all his wins from the 1997 season despite being excluded from the results of the World Championship after instigating a collision with Jacques Villeneuve at the title decider in Jerez, could be treated as a precedent.

He explained: “That’s a really significant thing that we’ve now seen a driver take action for.

“A few people have already said: ‘Felipe is just trying to stay in the news, he’s just trying to get a settlement.’

“I know Felipe quite well and I don’t believe he’d be doing this for the money. I believe he’s doing this just to show in reality he could’ve, should’ve won the 2008 World Championship.

“It does make you think. It’s made me think again about that race and the repercussions of it.

“His point is that Lewis finished third in that race and shouldn’t have been in the World Championship – and I kind of agree with him.

“It’s fascinating. We’ll see how it goes in terms of the end result, but the fact Felipe’s even doing this is amazingly brave and I totally commend him for doing it, because I think he’s got a serious point. recommends

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“Felipe’s point is that because it was all acknowledged that that race should have been deleted from the World Championship as a non-race.

“It’s an interesting point and I’ve been wondering ever since if there is a precedent for that sort of thing.

“Deliberately crashing is very unusual anyway. A race being subsequently deleted from the Championship? That’s not unheard of, that is for sure.

“I think the nearest precedent to this is potentially the ’97 World Drivers’ Championship, when Michael Schumacher was found guilty of attempting to take Jacques Villeneuve out of the European Grand Prix at Jerez and the penalty was to disqualify him from the complete World Championship.

“As it happened, it didn’t make a lot of difference.

“OK, if you look at the results now, Heinz-Harald Frentzen finished second and David Coulthard P3, but Ferrari got to keep their Constructors’ Championship points and Michael got to keep his race wins and he didn’t have any penalties other than that.

“So it didn’t really affect anything. It was just the way it was added up at the end of the year, but in terms of whom won which grand prix in ’97 Michael kept all his wins.

“So it didn’t actually have much effect, but it was a precedent that a sweeping decision like that can be taken to exclude a driver from the World Championship because of one specific infringement.

“And you could argue – and I’m interested to see whether Felipe’s lawyers argue this – that because of that one race, which was effectively a dud race – because it had the wrong result, the wrong winner, it should have been deleted from the Championship – that did affect the Championship as a whole.

“The point is that had that race been deleted from the Championship, then Felipe would have been World Champion, because Lewis finished third in that Singapore Grand Prix with enough points to have won the Championship in Brazil.

“That’s really interesting that he’s doing that and I think, even if he doesn’t succeed – and probably he won’t, I guess – I’m really interested in the fact that Formula 1 is a private club in effect and it takes its legal cases up to an appeals court, which is within the FIA.

“Obviously the FIA presumably aren’t going to rule against themselves – I imagine they won’t, you never know! – but it’ll be interesting to see whether this barrister of Felipe’s will take it beyond that to some sort of European Commission thing or even bigger than that, beyond the scope of just an FIA court of appeal.

“That’s what will be the most interesting thing, I think, on that whole business.”

Massa’s legal action appears to have been sparked by an interview given to German publication F1-Insider by Ecclestone in 2023, in which the 93-year-old revealed he was aware of the truth behind the Singapore race prior to the end of the 2008 season, but “decided not to do anything” to “protect the sport from a huge scandal.”

Ecclestone has since denied memory of having given the interview in question.

Windsor has been left shocked that Massa has targeted Ecclestone after the pair had a good relationship throughout the Brazilian’s F1 career.

He commented: “This case by Massa is the first time a driver has decided to do this.

“And interestingly, it’s not just the FIA, it’s Bernie Ecclestone as well, which is an interesting thing, isn’t it?

“Massa has been very close to Bernie for most of his career and whether or not he’s brought Bernie into the loop and Bernie’s going to be a hostile witness turned friendly witness, I don’t know.

“That’s an interesting one to me, it’s interesting that he’s brought Bernie into it.”

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