Felippe Massa’s F1 Lawsuit: The Details

Some call it the greatest show on wheels, others see it as a wasteful, environmentally harmful and pointless sport. But wherever you stand on Formula 1 motor racing, it’s a multi-billion-dollar business.

It’s also one which is welcoming more and more fans who, previously, may have paid little attention to the sport. Many ascribe this growth in its popularity to the Netflix documentary series Drive To Survive, particularly in the US. Now in its sixth season this provides a behind the scenes look at the sport as well as having a certain element of soap opera to it.

Largely this is driven by the personal rivalry between the Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff and his counterpart at Red Bull, Christian Horner. This is fuelled by the fact that the Mercedes team, home of the seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, has been consistently beaten over the last couple of seasons by Red Bull’s seemingly unstoppable Max Verstappen.

Looking back to 2008

To get to the bottom of the lawsuit that the Brazilian ex-Ferrari driver Felipe Massa is bringing against the sport’s governing body the FIA, F1 and its former head Bernie Ecclestone we have to go back to the 2008 season.

At the time Ferrari and McLaren Mercedes were the two most dominant teams with the former eventually winning the season’s constructors’ championship by a comfortable 21-point margin. However, it was Lewis Hamilton who won the drivers’ championship, his first ever, by just one point over Felipe Massa.

What’s more, he achieved it by snatching fifth place in the season’s final grand prix in Brazil with a last-minute manoeuvre to overtake Toyota’s Timo Glock. By coming fifth, he picked up the four points he needed to beat Massa by 98 points to 97 in the overall championship.

So even though Massa had won the race in front of his home fans and was the clear favourite in all the sports betting at the time, this was a very bitter pill to swallow.

The Singapore Connection

It seems that 16 years later Massa is still angry about the championship he believes should have been his. What’s more, he is asserting that the pivotal moment didn’t come in the Brazilian Grand Prix on November 2, 2008, but five weeks earlier in the Singapore Grand Prix.

Despite starting the race in pole position Massa finished well out of the points in 13th place – a fact that he blames on an incident that occurred in the fifteenth lap of the race.

It’s claimed that the Renault Driver Nelson Piquet Jr was instructed by his team boss Flavio Briatore and chief engineer Pat Symonds to crash deliberately. The supposed aim was to give his Renault team-mate Fernando Alonso the chance to win the race – which he subsequently did.

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, which Piquet at the time blamed on driving on hard tires, this led to a safety car period in which many drivers took the chance to make a pit stop, Massa included.

However, he made the mistake of driving off with the fuel line still attached to his car and then headed out of the pit lane directly into the path of Force India’s Adrian Sutil. This earned him a penalty effectively putting Massa right at the back of the field, as position he couldn’t win from or even, as it turned out, get amongst the points.

The case Massa’s putting forward.

Massa, who now drives in the Brazilian Stock Car Pro Series, believes that he was unfairly cheated out of what should have been his world championship. It’s his assertion that under FIA and F1 rules the Piquet incident should have been more thoroughly investigated.

If it had been, then the result of the race would have been declared null and void with no drivers receiving any points at all. If this had been the case then Hamilton, who came third in Singapore picking up six points, would have ended the season on 92 points, five behind Massa’s total of 97.

The sum that Massa is seeking in damages is thought to be at least $82 million, money he feels he would have earned if he had been crowned champion in 2008.

It’s thought that he has been seeking an amicable solution for some time, but with no success and this is why he has now chosen to go down the legal route using a Brazilian law firm to represent him.

The case is planned to be heard in London’s High Court where Massa hopes that justice will be his.

This comes at a potentially tricky time for the sport’s governing body with a couple of other controversies making the headlines, as well as some uneasiness about the apparent willingness of motor racing to co-operate in sportwashing.

This could well play out in Massa’s favour leading to a potential out-of-court settlement – something that may well be better for everyone concerned.