Felipa Massa's 2008 Formula One world championship legal case: All you need to know

If the decision is ruled in the Brazilian's favour, Massa could become the last driver to win a driver's championship with Ferrari.

Felipe Massa was denied a maiden F1 championship win by just one point. (Image credit: F1 Twitter)
By Nilavro Ghosh | Apr 5, 2023 | 3 Min Read follow icon Follow Us

For the first time in Formula One history, an ex-driver has decided to take legal action against the championship result. Former Felipe Massa informed to the world earlier this week that he would be taking things to the court over the result of the contentious 2008 Formula One driver’s world championship. That season, Lewis Hamilton won the first of his seven world championships with McLaren. At the time, Massa was at Ferrari alongside then defending champion Kimi Raikkonen.

If the decision is ruled in the Brazilian’s favour, Massa could become the last driver to win a driver’s championship with Ferrari, and Hamilton would be a title short of Michael Schumacher. But what is this whole legal drama about? Here’s all you need to know.

The crashgate scandal

Anyone even remotely in touch with the world of Formula One will know about the infamous crashgate scandal which took place at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. In the event, Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jr. deliberately crashed his car so that his teammate Fernando Alonso could claim the victory. However, this one incident would have a butterfly effect which would eventually see Massa robbed of a world championship.

Read More – Formula One ‘crashgate’ scandal: What was it all about?

The story of what happened after the crash is simple. Massa was a driver with the Scuderia at the time and after Piquet Jr crashed, a safety car was deployed, under which Ferrari would make a complete hash of the Brazilian’s pitstop and tyre strategy. This saw him lose out to Hamilton in terms of points in race as he would eventually go on to win the championship by just one point over the Brazilian.

Why now?

Some reports suggest that Massa came to this decision after former 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone acknowledged that the Brazilian was in fact robbed of a world championship. He said that Max Mosley had, at the time, decided not to take any action as he did not want the sport to be hit by a huge scandal. Turns out, it got hit with a scandal anyway.

“Max Mosley (the then FIA president) and I were informed during the 2008 season what had happened in the race in Singapore,” Ecclestone said. “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 teammate Alonso.”

“We decided not to do anything at first. We wanted to protect the sport and save it from a huge scandal. That‘s why I used angelic tongues to persuade [his father] to keep calm for the time being. Back then there was a rule that a world championship classification after the FIA awards ceremony at the end of the year was untouchable. So Hamilton was presented with the world championship trophy and everything was fine.”

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“We had enough information in time to investigate the matter. According to the (FIA) statutes, we should have cancelled the race in Singapore under these conditions. That means it would never have happened for the world championship standings. Then Felipe Massa would have become world champion and not Lewis Hamilton,” he concluded.

What does Felipe Massa have to say?

“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,” the Brazilian responded when asked about Ecclestone’s claims.

“I intend to study the situation; study what the laws say, and the rules. We have to have an idea of what is possible to do. I would never go after it thinking financially. I would go after it thinking about justice. I think if you’ve been punished for something that wasn’t your fault, and it’s the product of a robbery, a stolen race, justice has to be served. In fact, the right situation is to cancel the result of that race. It is the only justice that can be done in a case like this.”