The FIA prefers to let bygones be bygones after a Formula 1 championship is awarded, even in the most egregious circumstances. Felipe Massa feels he was cheated out of the 2008 World Championship, however, and is now seeking compensation through the courts.
As reported by Reuters, Massa's lawyers have submitted a Letter Before Claim to the FIA, addressed to F1 chief Stefano Domenicali and FIA head Mohammed Ben Sulayem. Notably, Domenicali was Massa's boss in 2008 as the head of the Ferrari F1 team. The eight-page document charges that Massa missed out on tens of millions of euros in lost earnings and bonuses by virtue of losing the championship as a result of the Crashgate scandal.
Overall, it appears the lawsuit is primarily seeking compensation for the title loss, rather than to force an overturning of the official championship result. "Simply put, Mr Massa is the rightful 2008 Driver's Champion, and F1 and FIA deliberately ignored the misconduct that cheated him out of that title," reads the letter from London-based firm Enyo Law. It charges that Massa "was the victim of a conspiracy committed by individuals at the highest level of F1 together with the FIA and Formula One Management."
The "Crashgate" scandal at the heart of the matter took place at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. The race saw Nelson Piquet Jr. told to intentionally crash to bring out a safety car to aid Fernando Alonso's strategy. The incident compromised Massa's race, with the Ferrari driver finishing 13th and outside the points. Massa went on to lose the 2008 title in devastating fashion at the last race in Brazil. He was told he had won upon crossing the line, only for a last-minute pass to give Lewis Hamilton the victory by a single point.
News that Massa might pursue the matter legally first surfaced earlier this year. The issue arose due to comments made by former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone that he and other officials were aware of Crashgate during the 2008 season. " "We had enough information in time to investigate the matter. According to the statutes, we should have canceled the race in Singapore under these conditions," Ecclestone told F1 Insider in March. If that race result had been struck from teh record and everything else remained the same, Massa would have won the title ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
For his part, Ecclestone claims he as no memory of giving the critical interview that spun all this into motion. "I don't remember any of this, to be honest," Ecclestone told Reuters via telephone, adding "I don't remember giving the interview for sure."
Massa's legal team indicated that legal proceedings will be filed with the English courts within 14 days, save for a substantive reply from the FIA. It indicated that if such a reply is not satisfactory, the ex-Ferrari driver will pursue compensation for harm suffered. The letter also asked for "recognition that, but for those unlawful acts, he would have been awarded the 2008 Championship." That's notably a step short of asking to be awarded the championship itself.
The FIA doesn't overturn race results easily. It was perfectly happy to let the farcical scenes at the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix and the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix stand on the record. However, it's possible that Massa might convince the courts to shake them down for a few million dollars. It could be a solid payday for a driver no longer earning the same glorious sums as during the peak of his F1 career.
Got a tip? Let the author know: firstname.lastname@example.org