Felipe Massa sues FIA and FOM over 2008 F1 Singapore Grand Prix

Debates over the 2008 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship have lingered for decades.

Now they are headed to court.

Former driver Felipe Massa has reportedly filed suit against Formula One Management (FOM), F1’s governing body the Federation Internationale de L’Automobile (FIA), and former F1 President Bernie Ecclestone in the high court of London over the results of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, and the Drivers’ title that season.

Massa has alleged since 2009 that he was the rightful champion that year, and not Lewis Hamilton, pointing to an incident that occured in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. That race a monumental moment for the sport, as it was not only the first F1 race in Singapore, but also the first-ever nighttime F1 race.

The 2008 Singapore Grand Prix was the 15th of 18 races on the schedule that year, and the standings were tight entering the race. Hamilton had just a one-point lead over Massa in the Drivers’ standings ahead of the Singapore GP. With Massa qualifying on pole, and Hamilton set to start behind him in second, Massa had a great opportunity to retake the lead in the standings. Massa had not been atop the table since the French Grand Prix, the eighth race of the season.

However, Massa ended up finishing 13th and outside of the points, due to a disastrous pitstop early in the race. He had built a lead of over three seconds on Hamilton, but on Lap 14 Nelson Piquet Jr. of Renault lost control at Turn 17, and ran into the wall.

The incident gave Massa a chance to come into the pits, but that is when disaster ensued:

The team released him too early, and the Ferrari driver roared out of the pits with the fueling line still attached. Massa stopped just before entering the track, waiting for mechanics to race down pit lane to remove the hose. He rejoined the grid at the back of the field, and a few laps later would be given a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release.

He ended up finishing 13th, and outside the points. Piquet’s teammate Fernando Alonso won the Grand Prix.

In the weeks after the Singapore Grand Prix, there were rumblings about what happened in the race itself. Noted F1 journalist Joe Saward was among those, writing this at the time:

There were some cynics (there always are) who reckoned that the team’s strategy was to have Nelson crash soon after Fernando had completed his stop and thus create a situation in which Fernando gained an advantage over the rest of the field. One can see this argument, but one likes to believe that no team would ever be so desperate as to have a driver throw his car at a wall. In all probability Piquet just screwed up – he has done that a lot this year.

Fast forward to the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix the following season. After failing to score a single point, Piquet was released by Renault following that race, the tenth of the season.

Shortly thereafter, Brazilian television revisited the events in Singapore, and allegations that Renault told Piquet to crash on purpose. During a broadcast of the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix, the Brazilian network Globo TV reportedly said it had received information that Piquet had been asked to crash on purpose. The reason? Alonso had been the first driver to make a pit stop, and a such he was at a disadvantage in the race running near the back of the grid. By Piquet crashing, it drew the safety car onto the track, and leveling the playing field.

Remember, Alonso went on to win.

FIA immediately announced an investigation into the allegations, and by early September F1’s governing body formally accused Renault and Piquet of interfering with the outcome of the Singapore Grand Prix. The parties were summoned to a meeting at the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris in late September.

While Renault threatened legal action against Piquet ahead of that hearing, in the days prior of that event the team announced it would not be contesting the charges, and that both Briatore and Pat Symonds, their Director of Engineering, would be leaving the organization.

The hearing still took place, following which FIA suspended Renault from F1 for two years. While the governing body went on to suspend the sentence, it was a massive black eye for the team, and the sport as a whole.

Briatore was suspended from FIA-sanctioned events indefinitely, while Symonds was given a suspension of five years. Despite being the driver that directly benefited from the crash, Alonso was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Back in August of this year Massa, through counsel, sent a “Letter Before Claim” to Stefano Domenicali, the CEO of F1 (who happened to be the Team Principal of Ferrari during the 2008 F1 season) and FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem. In the letter Massa alleges he was “the victim of a conspiracy committed by individuals at the highest level of F1 together with the FIA and Formula One Management.”

A statement from Massa’s legal team on Monday stated in part:

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. 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.

A public case search conducted online at Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals E-Filing Service did not uncover a filing by Massa and/or his counsel. Nor did it uncover a case involving Massa and FOM.

The statement from Massa’s counsel also includes a reference to “transparency” being needed in F1 as a result of both this incident and “recent events,” a likely reference to the recent investigation into Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner, and subsequent fallout:

“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.”

This is a developing story, and will be updated as necessary.

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