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Felipe Massa’s fresh bid for F1 World Championship success

September 6, 2023

Everyone remembers the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship finale at Interlagos in Brazil, when Felipe Massa (who would later drive for Williams) – for all of about half a minute – thought he’d done enough to take that year’s World crown, before Britain’s Lewis Hamilton slithered by Timo Glock on the last corner to take the flag in fifth place – all he needed to steal the title from Massa.

It was heart-wrenching to watch Massa stand atop the podium in Brazil – his home, trying (and almost succeeding) to keep a lid on his emotions after missing out on the biggest prize in motorsport by the thinnest of whiskers, as Hamilton and his posse celebrated in the pit lane below.

But that, as far as the 2008 title was concerned, we thought, was that. But not so!

Jump forward to summer 2009, and Massa’s Brazilian compatriot Nelson Piquet jnr is sacked by the Renault F1 team after a pointless first half of the F1 season. Not content to go quietly, a disrguntled Piquet, with his father in his ear, begins muttering to the Brazilian press about his part in a plan to engineer a win for Renault team-mate Fernando Alonso in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, in an incident that would later gain infamy as the ‘Crashgate’ scandal.

Essentially, it turns out, Piquet was asked to crash mid way through the Grand Prix which would precipitate a safety car that would piece nicely into Alonso’s race strategy, ultimately handing him the race win.

Unfortunately for race-leader Massa he too took the opportunity to pit under the same safety car, his Ferrari team bungled the stop and he lost any chance of the win, and with it the championship lead as rival Hamilton brought his McLaren-Mercedes home in 3rd place, scoring six points to Massa’s nil.

And double unfortunately for Massa, the four point gain over Hamilton he ‘lost out on’ here (and there was a long way to go in the race so a win was far from a dead cert) would have been enough for him to take the title in Brazil.

There was a lengthy investigation, and various penalties handed out to prominent figures at Renault, but nothing that would or could compensate Massa for missing out on the title he felt he deserved.

Recently, though, Bernie Ecclestone has revealed in an interview with F1 Insider that both he and then FIA boss Max Mosley knew it was an inside job at the time, and yet they did nothing about it, which has brought the whole matter to the fore once more – at least for Massa.

“We had enough information in time to investigate the matter. According to the statutes, however, we would probably have had to cancel the race in Singapore under these conditions. That is, for the championship standings, it would never have happened.”

“Then Felipe Massa would have become world champion and not Lewis Hamilton.”

Whether or not this is Bernie just trying to stir the F1 pot, as is his wont, this has reopened old wounds for Massa, who has now begun legal proceedings against F1 in an attempt to recoup some of the millions of dollars he claims to have missed out on having been deprived of the title as a result of cheating.

Note: He’s not actually attempting to overturn the result of the championship – this is purely financial.

So, what are his chances?

Well, as far as I can see, Piquet’s ‘crash’ didn’t directly cause Massa to lose the race win or indeed the championship.

Ferrari chose to pit Massa, then, in releasing him too soon, snapped off the team’s fuel rig which remained attached to the Ferrari, shuffling him back of the field while his team removed the broken fuel hose. This, in itself, could have resulted in instant retirement.

To add insult to injury, Massa was then handed a stop and go penalty for an unsafe release.

Had Ferrari carried out their job correctly, Massa could now be champion despite Renault’s cheating.

And, it was far from guaranteed that Massa would have won the race without the safety car.

Ferrari had chosen to switch their usually automatic signalling system to manual for that Grand Prix, so who’s to say there wasn’t a calamity awaiting Massa whenever he pitted?

Additionally, after the pit drama both Massa and team-mate Raikkonen crashed into the barriers. This, had Massa still been in the lead, would most likely have been the end of his attempt to win the race, if not his race altogether.

No, the incident and subsequent penalty that resulted was as a direct result of a mistake by Massa’s team, not of Piquet’s crash, or the resulting SC – these were both circumstantial.

Secondly, had F1 immediately taken action against Renault (whether officially or in a clandestine way like they had/have a tendency to do), they’d have been kicked out of the race and Massa would have been even worse off with Hamilton being promoted one place to second.

Thirdly, Massa’s current action is built solely upon something Bernie Ecclestone said. Ecclestone however, now claims he can’t remember saying it, and so the whole thing has fallen apart before it’s really gained any momentum.

And lastly, even if it’s proven that Bernie and Max knew about it, what could they have done about it?Could they have proven it without Piquet’s evidence (that was not available at the time)?

And if they did have proof, how likely is it that their course of action would have been to void the result of the Grand Prix (the only way it would allow Massa to have become champion)?? Where is the precedent for a whole event being cancelled because one of the participants is caught cheating? Especially when that would have disproportionately penalised an innocent party (Hamilton).

No Felipe baby, you just need to let it go.

I think the best he can hope for is a few quid out of court to make the whole thing go away. Perhaps that’s what he’s actually hoping for. And yet it could limit his opportunities for work in future, so that could prove to be a sizeable own goal.

What makes Massa’s claim especially intriguing is that he’s still employed within Formula 1 (albeit indirectly). Does he think that the F1 establishment will to allow this if he’s suing them? It is rumoured that he was asked not to attend the Italian GP, so it would seem not!

Furthermore, Massa’s Ferrari team boss at the time of the incident is none other than Stefano Domenicali, current CEO of Formula 1: The very organisation Massa is taking to court! Can you imaging if he was called to give testimony??


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