Felipe Massa Files $120 Million Lawsuit Over Controversial 2008 Formula 1 Title Loss
— 12 March 2024

Felipe Massa Files $120 Million Lawsuit Over Controversial 2008 Formula 1 Title Loss

— 12 March 2024
Garry Lu
Garry Lu

Despite the years that have followed, the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix has come to define the Formula 1 career of Felipe Massa — and it’s now the subject of a US$82 million (AU$120 million) lawsuit against the Federation Internationale de L’Automobile (FIA), Formula One Management Limited, and the latter’s then-CEO Bernie Ecclestone.

During the elite motorsport’s inaugural edition of the beloved race, Massa — then contracted to Scuderia Ferrari — had lined up on the starting grid in pole position, edging out McLaren Racing’s young gun, fellow 2008 title contender, and future great, Lewis Hamilton, by six-tenths of a second.

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After 14 laps, Massa had accumulated a five-second lead ahead of a fresh-faced Hamilton. But that proved all for naught after Nelson Piquet Jr was ordered to deliberately crash by Renault, thereby forcing a safety car to deploy, and assisting his teammate, two-time champion Fernando Alonso (who started all the way back in P15 and made an “unusual” fuel stop on Lap 12).

A combination of this underhanded strategy from Renault and a pitlane f**k-up (which led to a drive-through penalty) meant he’d finish in P13; Lewis Hamilton would go on to snag a podium as well as a seven-point lead in the championship race, while Fernando Alonso would go on to win the very first Singapore GP.

But the implications were a little more high-stakes than a single race weekend.

The Brazilian Grand Prix. Felipe Massa’s home race and the final calendar event of the season. He’d found himself seven points behind Lewis Hamilton in the driver standings, meaning he needed a P1 or P2 result while Hamilton needed to cross the finish line outside of the Top 5.

Through a series of dramatic events that still lives on in infamy, Massa would win the race but ultimately lose the title fight: as just about the entire grid struggled for grip after some late showers, Hamilton would overtake Toyota’s Timo Glock on the penultimate turn, improving his position from P6 to P5, and securing his maiden Formula 1 driver’s championship… by a single goddamn point.

To make matters worse, had they tied on points, Massa would’ve still been crowned king by virtue of his six victories to Hamilton’s five.

It was the last time Felipe Massa would ever come remotely close to touching championship glory, despite being signed to Scuderia Ferrari for another five seasons. So you can begin to understand the 16 years of frustration and bitterness (and the legal action filed in the London High Court).

“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,” said Brazilian law firm Vieira Rezende Advogados.

The statement added: “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 cancelled, ‘Felipe Massa would have become world champion’ and that Mr Massa ‘was cheated out of the title he deserved.'”

The US$82 million (AU$120 million) in damages represents an approximation of lost prize money and other potential deals.

“I always said I was going to fight until the end,” Felipe Massa expressed via statement.

“Since the FIA and FOM decided not to do anything, we will seek to right this historical injustice in court. The matter is now for our lawyers and they are fully authorised to do whatever is necessary so justice in sport is served.”

“If he had asked me, I would have said it was the complete right thing to do, to sue, and to let an English judge decide what is right and wrong,” a surprisingly supportive Bernie Ecclestone told the British Press Association (via The Sydney Morning Heral).

“I cannot say anything about the outcome and what will happen. From his point of view, it is better that an English judge comes up with a verdict. It will be of more help for him.”

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This past September, Sir Lewis Hamilton noted that he’d “prefer not to focus on the past.” Whether it’s “15 years ago, two years ago, or three days ago.”

Incidentally, on the subject of his own controversial title loss to Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen during the 2021 season closer — that would’ve cemented his status as a record-breaking eight-time world champion had it played out otherwise — Hamilton recently had the following to say:

“He did what he had to do [in 2021]. That’s not him, it’s the sport. That wasn’t his fault. I mean, in his position, I would have done the same thing. There’s no issues there.”

If Felipe Massa’s lawsuit yields any kind of legal precedent, perhaps we can expect Sir Lewis himself to pursue action. Though at this stage, it’s nothing more than speculation.

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Garry Lu
After stretching his legs with companies such as The Motley Fool and the odd marketing agency, Garry joined Boss Hunting in 2019 as a fully-fledged Content Specialist. In 2021, he was promoted to News Editor. Garry proudly retains a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, black bruises from Muay Thai, as well as a black belt in all things pop culture. Drop him a line at [email protected]