Felipe Massa has sent out a ‘Letter Before Claim’ to the FIA and FOM, regarding his challenge of the outcome of the 2008 championship. Here’s why this has nothing to do with Lewis Hamilton.
Felipe Massa lost the 2008 title battle to Lewis Hamilton in the final race of the season, however earlier this year he announced he intends to change that result by challenging the outcome of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.
What happened in 2008?
In 2008 Lewis Hamilton beat out Felipe Massa for the championship title by one point, and he did it in the final corner of the final race of the season, while Massa was already celebrating his victory.
However, there was another controversial moment that happened earlier in the season, at that year’s Singapore Grand Prix. In Singapore, Renault’s Nelson Piquet Jr. deliberately crashed his car to help his team-mate Fernando Alonso win the race.
However this also affected Massa and his title chances, as during the Safety Car period triggered by the crash, the Brazilian suffered a botched pit stop by his team – Ferrari, that dropped him down to 13th, while his title rival Hamilton managed to finish in P3.
At the time it wasn’t known that Piquet crashed on purpose, this was only revealed the following year. It was then that those allegedly involved in the planning of the crash were punished (Renault’s team boss Flavio Briatore and technical chief Pat Symonds).
When this was made public, Massa wanted the Singapore GP to be cancelled, as it would also change the outcome of the championship, making him the champion.
However, this was impossible under the International Sporting Code, as the outcome of the championship cannot be changed once the FIA Awards ceremony is complete.
The FIA’s investigation at the time also determined that Alonso and the wider Renault team did not know about the plan to crash Piquet’s car, so the governing body felt it would not be fair to change the result of the race.
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Why did Massa launch a new challenge now?
During an F1-Insider interview, allegedly conducted earlier this year, Bernie Ecclestone (the F1 boss at the time) claimed that he and Max Mosley (FIA president at the time) knew that the rules were breached before the end of the 2008 season, but decided not to do anything about it.
The word ‘allegedly’ is used here, because when Ecclestone was contacted about this statement by Reuters, he denied having any memory of it.
“I don’t remember any of this, to be honest. I don’t remember giving the interview for sure,” the 92-year-old said.
But, back to Massa, when he heard Ecclestone’s original (alleged) remarks, Massa told Motorsport.com that he is now considering legal action in hopes of overturning the result.
“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,” Massa said.
“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, 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,” the Brazilian concluded.
So, what did Massa do now?
Motorsport.com reports that Massa decided to step up his legal challenge this week by sending a ‘Letter Before Claim’ to the FIA and Formula One Management, in which he provides details of his case and announces his intention to pursue the matter in court.
In the letter addressed to F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, Massa’s lawyers allege that their client was “the victim of a conspiracy”, and that the FIA and FOM deliberately decided not to take any action even after being aware of the wrongdoing.
Furthermore they allege that their motive was to “avoid a scandal”, and add that this has cost Massa tens of millions of euros in lost earnings and bonuses.
“Simply put, Mr Massa is the rightful 2008 Drivers’ Champion, and F1 and FIA deliberately ignored the misconduct that cheated him out of that title,” the letter continues.
“Mr Massa is unable to fully quantify his losses at this stage but estimates that they are likely to exceed tens of millions of Euros. This amount does not cover the serious moral and reputational losses suffered by Mr Massa.”
In the letter, the lawyers add that if the FIA and FOM don’t deliver a significant response to this within two weeks, they will start legal proceedings.
Does this have anything to do with Lewis Hamilton?
Now, there are some detractors of Lewis Hamilton, who try to make a comparison between the 2008 situation and the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
They say that if Max Verstappen’s 2021 title is to be considered illegitimate, then Lewis’ 2008 title is also illegitimate. However, this argument doesn’t make any sense.
What Piquet Jr. did in Singapore was a deliberate move to help his team-mate Fernando Alonso, and every other driver was a victim. Every driver on the grid was put in the same situation and they had to cope with it the best they could.
Ferrari made a mistake which cost their driver several positions, while Lewis Hamilton and McLaren did everything right, and ultimately bested their rivals.
Lewis did not benefit from Piquet’s move, nor was the move designed to help him, he was in the same position as every other driver on the grid (except Alonso).
Now, in Abu Dhabi, the race director made a series of decision that directly benefitted Max Verstappen. Whether this was deliberate or not, nobody can claim with 100% certainty, but there’s no doubt that the rules were broken in exactly the right way so that only Verstappen could come out on top.
In Singapore, Lewis was just a bystander, while in Abu Dhabi Verstappen was a direct beneficiary of the illegitimate decisions made by the race director.
So, does the lawsuit have anything to do with Lewis Hamilton or his title win? Of course not. To question Lewis’ title win on the grounds of a different driver doing something to benefit his team-mate, which has nothing to do with Lewis at all, would be completely ludicrous.