Written by Vyas Ponnuri
15 years on from a heartbreaking championship defeat to closest rival Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa is assessing legal options over the outcome of the 2008 Formula One season.
The Brazilian’s reasons to take legal action over the outcome of the season range around the infamous ‘Crashgate’ scandal from the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. Renault’s Nelson Piquet crashed at Turn 17, shortly after teammate Fernando Alonso pitted. This brought out the Safety Car, massively aiding Alonso’s race. The Spaniard ultimately won the race.
On the other hand, Massa’s smooth ride turned on its head during the safety car period, as a botched pit stop saw the Brazilian trundle down the pit lane with the fuel hose still stuck to the car. He eventually ground to a halt at the end of the pit lane, but the damage had been done. While Massa managed to scramble to 13th after the pit stop debacle, his title rival Hamilton had a smoother race, finishing third.
This result would prove to be crucial for the championship, being towards the closing stages of the season. Massa eventually lost his championship battle to Hamilton by a single point, despite winning the season finale, and his home race at Brazil.
Piquet opened up on the events midway through 2009, having been ordered by the pit wall to deliberately crash during the race. Piquet’s actions resulted in Renault receiving a two-year ban from Formula One, while team principal Flavio Briatore and technical director Pat Symonds were punished severely too.
Massa expressed his displeasure of the incident too. He blamed the race for his championship defeat, and called for the cancellation of the results, but this wouldn’t be possible, as the results can’t be altered under FIA statutes, after the season ends.
However, fresh news has emerged on this topic. In an interview with F1-insider last month, Bernie Ecclestone, former CEO of Formula One, admitted that he as well as then-FIA president Max Mosley knew of the incident, but decided against action to ‘Protect the sport from a huge scandal’.
"At that time there was the rule that a World Championship classification after the FIA award ceremony at the end of the year is untouchable. So Hamilton was presented with the championship trophy and everything was fine.
"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 deserved title, while Hamilton had all the luck in the world and won his first championship.
“Today I would have arranged it differently."
Massa too spoke about the situation, stating his intent to ‘Study’ the laws and re-investigate the situation, in a conversation with motorsport.com during a stock car racing weekend:
"There is a rule that says that when a championship is decided, from the moment the driver receives the champion's trophy, things can no longer be changed, even if it has been proven a theft."
“At the time, Ferrari's lawyers told me about this rule. We went to other lawyers and the answer was that nothing could be done. So I logically believed in this situation.”
“But after 15 years, we hear that the [former] owner of the category says that he found out in 2008, together with the president of the FIA, and they did nothing [so as] to not tarnish the name of F1.
“This is very sad, to know the result of this race was supposed to be cancelled and I would have a title. In the end, I was the one who lost the most with this result. So, we are going after it to understand all this.”
He even liked the case to Lance Armstrong in the Tour De France, who was stripped of all his titles, after doping allegations were proven true:
“We have already seen other situations happening in sports, such as Lance Armstrong (cyclist), who was proven to have doped, and he lost all the titles. What is the difference?”
Irrespective of the outcome, the Crashgate scandal will forever be known as one of Formula One’s biggest controversies.