Felipe Massa kicks off legal proceedings against F1, FIA, and Bernie Ecclestone

Thomas Maher
Felipe Massa points with pride at his heart following his title defeat to Lewis Hamilton in the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Felipe Massa points with pride at his heart following his title defeat to Lewis Hamilton in the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Felipe Massa has followed through on his threats to sue the FIA, Formula 1, and Bernie Ecclestone and has filed a lawsuit in the UK.

Following months of back and forth over whether or not to legally challenge for the 2008 F1 World Championship, Felipe Massa has formally proceeded with a lawsuit against Formula 1, the FIA, and Bernie Ecclestone.

Felipe Massa’s legal representatives issue statement

Massa filed a lawsuit in the UK’s High Court against Formula One Management (FOM), the Federation Internationale de L’Automobile (FIA), and Bernie Ecclestone – the former chairman of the Formula One Group.

A statement from Massa’s legal representatives confirmed the lawsuit was filed on Monday, March 11th.

“Mr. Massa is seeking declarations that the FIA breached its regulations by failing to promptly investigate Nelson Piquet Junior’s crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, and that had it acted properly, Mr. Massa would have won the Drivers’ Championship that year,” read the statement.

“Mr. Massa also seeks damages for the significant financial loss he has suffered due to the FIA’s failure, in which Mr. Ecclestone and FOM were also complicit.

“As Mr. Ecclestone has admitted, there was “enough information in time to investigate the matter” in 2008 and “cancel the race in Singapore. Mr. Ecclestone further affirmed that, had the results of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix been canceled, “Felipe Massa would have become world champion” and that Mr. Massa “was cheated out of the title he deserved.

“Attempts to find an amicable resolution have been unsuccessful, leaving Mr. Massa with no choice but to initiate legal proceedings.

“Recent events naturally demonstrate that issues of transparency and integrity in Formula One remain relevant, and it is clear that serious work is needed to restore its credibility and long-term future.

“Although the FIA investigation in 2009 concluded that it had “never before considered charges as serious”, even after the revelations brought forward last year, the results of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix still stand and remain officially sanctioned by the FIA.”

F1 declined to comment on the situation when approached by PlanetF1.com, while a request for comment has been lodged with the FIA.

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Why is Felipe Massa suing the FIA, FOM, and Bernie Ecclestone?

The Brazilian driver is suing the three parties in charge of Formula 1 at the time of the infamous ‘Crashgate’ scandal, the proven events of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix that proved hugely consequential for the outcome of that year’s championship fight.

Midway through the inaugural race at Marina Bay, Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jnr. deliberately crashed his car, having felt under pressure to do so as the Brazilian driver attempted to keep his career alive after a tough spell with the Enstone-based squad.

The crash brought out the Safety Car, which helped Fernando Alonso through into the lead due to perfect pit-stop timing, with the Spaniard going on to win. Massa, who pitted due to the Safety Car, lost out as a result of driving off with his fuel hose still attached – a catastrophic blow to his championship after leading the race.

Massa would go on to lose out in the World Championship battle to Lewis Hamilton, who claimed his maiden title, with the title formally done and dusted under the FIA’s own regulations when the trophy was handed over to Hamilton at the Prize Giving Gala after the season.

Less than a year later, Piquet Jnr. revealed the story of how the crash had been deliberate, with an FIA investigation duly uncovering the plot and punishing the Renault team for their skulduggery.

But the results of the race were allowed to stand, and the matter lay dormant for some 15 years – until a fresh interview given by Ecclestone last year reset the timeline.

Back then, the accepted facts were that then-FIA President Max Mosley and the FIA, as well as Bernie Ecclestone and FOM, only became aware of Renault’s actions during the 2009 season.

But an interview Ecclestone gave during 2023 revealed details that reset that timeline back to being before the end of the 2008 season – back to a much earlier point than what had been the generally accepted version of events.

“Max Mosley and I were informed during the 2008 season what had happened in the race in Singapore,” he recalled to F1 Insider in an interview dated 1st March.

“Piquet Junior had told his father Nelson that he had been asked by the team to drive into the wall at a certain point in order to trigger a Safety Car phase and such to help his team-mate Alonso.

“Piquet Junior was worried about his contract extension, so he was under a lot of pressure and agreed.

“We decided not to do anything for now. 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.”

Before the 2023 F1 summer break, Massa began to put the wheels in motion for his legal challenge, alleging that losing the World Championship had cost him millions in income as well as “moral” and “reputational” damages.

“Since the very first interview, I’ve said I’m here to be recognised as World Champion,” he told PlanetF1.com in November 2023.

“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.”

On August 15th, Massa’s lawyers contacted both current F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali and FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem with a Letter Before Claim, establishing the details of his legal challenge and claiming Massa was “the victim of a conspiracy” in 2008 as both organisations sought to avoid a scandal.

Massa received a response from both the FIA and Formula One Management to his original letter but was left dismayed after being informed that it was impossible to provide a formal response when key personnel were away during F1’s annual summer break in August, with more time required.

This resulted in a back-and-forth on establishing a deadline before the matter would be filed in the UK High Court. That deadline was November 15th, 2023.

Some four months on from this deadline, Massa’s lawyers have now lodged a lawsuit in the UK High Court.

Massa is represented in England by barristers Nick de Marco KC and Kendrah Potts, instructed by Richard Levett and Daniel Levy (Enyo Law LLP).

The full team also includes Bernardo Viana (Vieira Rezende Advogados), Antonio J. Perez-Marques (Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP), Michele Bernasconi (Bär & Karrer), and Olivier Loizon (Gide Loyrette Nouel).

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