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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Felipe Massa’s authorized motion over the F1 2008 Drivers’ Championship, defined


The 2008 Method 1 Drivers’ Championship stays one of many closest within the sport’s historical past, and continues to be hotly debated to at the present time. Just like the notorious 2021 Drivers’ Championship, which was selected the ultimate lapo f the season between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, the 2008 marketing campaign additionally got here all the way down to the ultimate nook of the calendar. Felipe Massa got here throughout the road to win his dwelling race, the Brazilian Grand Prix, within the season’s closing race. Massa believed the victory was sufficient to safe the title.

Nevertheless, in stark distinction to 2021, Hamilton executed a cross on the ultimate flip of the season, getting by Timo Glock of Toyota to complete fifth. That was sufficient to see Hamilton win the Drivers’ Championship by a single level.

That will be Hamilton’s first Drivers’ Championship, in simply his second 12 months within the sport.

But, since 2009 Massa has maintained he was the true Drivers’ Champion for that season, given the dialogue that unfolded on the Belgian Grand Prix a 12 months later. As a consequence of an F1 controversy that got here to be often known as “Crashgate,” Massa grew to imagine he was the rightful champion.

Now in keeping with a report from Reuters, he’s bringing that perception to courtroom. Why? Let’s stroll by means of all of it.

Crashgate and the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix

On condition that Hamilton topped Massa by a single level — 98 to 97 — you would possibly imagine that Massa’s grievance stems from the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, which occurred in early November and was the final race on the schedule that season. Coming into the ultimate race of the season, Hamilton was in first place with 94 factors, with Massa in second place, simply seven factors behind.

But Massa nonetheless had a path to the title. A win at dwelling, coupled with a sixth-place end from Hamilton (or worse), and he could be Drivers’ Champion.

However with Hamilton’s last-corner cross of Glock, it was sufficient to come back throughout the road fifth, giving him the title by a single level.

Nevertheless, Massa’s allegations stem not from the Brazilian Grand Prix, however fairly the Singapore Grand Prix, which occurred that September and was the fifteenth of the 18 races that 12 months. It was not solely the primary F1 race in Singapore, however it was additionally the primary race within the historical past of the game to happen at night time.

Coming into the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix, Hamilton had only a one-point lead over Massa within the Drivers’ standings. With Massa qualifying on pole, and Hamilton set to start out behind him in second, Massa had an amazing alternative to retake the lead within the standings. Massa had not been atop the desk because the French Grand Prix, the eighth race of the season.

Nevertheless, Massa ended up ending thirteenth, and outdoors of the factors, as a consequence of a disastrous pitstop early within the race. He had constructed a lead of over three seconds on Hamilton, however on Lap 14 Nelson Piquet Jr. of Renault misplaced management at Flip 17, and bumped into the wall.

Piquet initially blamed his arduous tyres for the error, citing driver error.

A security automotive got here out, and almost your complete grid got here down pit lane, together with Massa. Nevertheless, the crew launched him too early, and the Ferrari driver roared out of the pits with the fueling line nonetheless connected:

Massa stopped simply earlier than getting into the monitor, ready for mechanics to race down pit lane to take away the hose. He rejoined the grid in the back of the sphere, and some laps later could be given a drive-through penalty for an unsafe launch.

He ended up ending thirteenth, and outdoors the factors. Piquet’s teammate Fernando Alonso gained the Grand Prix.

Within the wake of the incident, many pointed to Ferrari’s digital signaling system, used to point when a driver ought to exit, as the reason for Massa’s pit-lane blunder. Ferrari Crew Principal Stefano Domenicali — now the CEO of F1 — as an alternative maintained that it was human error.

The incident drew some hypothesis, with Massa reportedly reaching out to Renault’s Managing Director Flavio Briatore about what transpired. There have been additionally murmurs a few potential cause behind Piquet’s crash, with F1 journalist Joe Saward penning this on the time:

There have been some cynics (there at all times are) who reckoned that the crew’s technique was to have Nelson crash quickly after Fernando had accomplished his cease and thus create a state of affairs by which Fernando gained a bonus over the remainder of the sphere. One can see this argument, however one likes to imagine that no crew would ever be so determined as to have a driver throw his automotive at a wall. Perhaps Piquet simply screwed up – he has performed that rather a lot this 12 months.

Quick ahead to the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix the next season. After failing to attain a single level, Piquet was launched by Renault following that race, the tenth of the season.

Shortly thereafter, Brazilian tv reported concerning the occasions in Singapore, and alleged that Renault advised Piquet to crash on function. The rationale? Alonso had been the primary driver to make a pit cease, and a such he was at a drawback within the race. By Piquet crashing, it drew the protection automotive, and leveled the enjoying subject.

Keep in mind, Alonso went on to win.

FIA instantly introduced an investigation into the allegations, and by early September F1’s governing physique formally accused Renault and Piquet of interfering with the result of the Singapore Grand Prix. The events had been summoned to a gathering on the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris in late September.

Whereas Renault threatened authorized motion towards Piquet forward of that listening to, within the days prior of that occasion the crew introduced it might not be contesting the fees, and that each Briatore and Pat Symonds, their Director of Engineering, could be leaving the group.

The listening to nonetheless occurred, following which FIA suspended Renault from F1 for 2 years. FIA went on to droop the sentence, however it was an enormous black eye for the crew, and the game as an entire.

Briatore was suspended from FIA-sanctioned occasions indefinitely, whereas Symonds was given a suspension of 5 years. Regardless of being the driving force that immediately benefited from the crash, Alonso was cleared of any wrongdoing.

What’s Massa alleging?

Merely put, Massa is alleging that Crashgate — mixed with F1’s obvious information of the plan forward of the 2009 investigation — means that he’s the rightful champion of the 2008 season.

Based on Reuters Massa, by means of counsel, has despatched a “Letter Earlier than Declare” to Domenicali (who keep in mind is the CEO of F1 now) and FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem. Within the letter, which Reuters has obtained, Massa alleges he was “the sufferer of a conspiracy dedicated by people on the highest degree of F1 along with the FIA and Method One Administration”.

The LBC additional asserts that “[s]indicate put, Mr. Massa is the rightful 2008 Driver’s Champion, and F1 and FIA intentionally ignored the misconduct that cheated him out of that title.”

“Mr. Massa is unable to completely quantify his losses at this stage however estimates that they’re prone to exceed tens of thousands and thousands of Euros,” the LBC maintains. “This quantity doesn’t cowl the intense ethical and reputational losses suffered by Mr. Massa.”

Reuters additional stories that an FIA spokesperson confirmed receipt of the LBC.

Whereas the investigation into the incident — coupled with the admissions from Renault and Piquet again in 2009 — define that the crash was performed on function, it was Alonso who was the clear beneficiary. Nevertheless, Massa additional alleges that a few of F1’s highest decision-makers knew concerning the plan on the time, and selected to not take motion.

Particularly, Massa factors to feedback from then-F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone made in March of this 12 months. Talking with F1-Insider, Ecclestone opened up about what he knew in 2008 — and when — as head of F1.

Talking this 12 months, Ecclestone is alleged to have mentioned that he and then-FIA president Max Mosley had been conscious of the state of affairs “during the 2008 season.”

Ecclestone went on to say this:

We determined to not do something for now. We needed to guard the game and put it aside from an enormous scandal. That’s why I used angelic tongues to influence my former driver Nelson Piquet to stay calm.

At the moment, there was a rule {that a} world championship qualification after the FIA ​​awards ceremony on the finish of the 12 months was untouchable. Then Hamilton was offered with the trophy and every thing was high quality.

We had sufficient data in time to analyze the matter. Based on the statutes, we must always have canceled the race in Singapore beneath these situations.

Meaning I might by no means have modified the championship standings. After which Felipe Massa would have develop into world champion and never Lewis Hamilton.

Mission … achieved?

These feedback sparked near-immediate outrage from Massa.

“To start with, it’s very unhappy, to search out out {that a} race has been stolen… That grew to become clear the next 12 months,” mentioned Massa to Motorsport. “The punishments of (Flavio) Briatore and Pat Symonds occurred, whereas the results of one thing being stolen, [with that] nothing occurred.”

“There’s a rule that mentioned that when a championship was determined, from the second the driving force receives the champion’s trophy, issues may now not be modified. However it was confirmed a theft,” he added. “On the time, Ferrari’s legal professionals advised me about this rule, we went to different legal professionals and the reply was that nothing could possibly be performed. I, logically, believed on this state of affairs.”

“And after 15 years, we hear that the [former] proprietor of the class says that he came upon in 2008, along with the president of the FIA, they usually did nothing to not tarnish the identify of F1,” continued Massa. “That is very unhappy. You realize one thing was stolen, the results of this race was presupposed to be canceled and I might have a title. Ultimately, I used to be the one who misplaced essentially the most with this end result.”

Reached for touch upon Thursday, Ecclestone had no reminiscence of the interview, in keeping with Reuters.

Can Massa win?

Whereas it’s true that I as soon as practiced legislation — for ten years, imagine it or not — answering this query requires a lawyer a lot smarter than me.

It’s true that in case you merely declare the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix a nullity, as Ecclestone apparently conceded was an possibility, then Massa could be the Drivers’ Champion of 2008.

Nevertheless, another choice would have been merely to disqualify Renault from that race, which might have resulted in Hamilton really profitable the Drivers’ title by two factors, as he completed second to Alonso in Singapore and beneath this situation, would have gained the race.

Additional, as this examine from The Race, outlines, there have been different alternatives for Massa and Ferrari to beat the occasions of Singapore that season, alternatives they didn’t capitalize upon.

Maybe the largest alternative? A clear pit cease again in 2008. If Massa doesn’t draw back with the gasoline hose connected, he seemingly picks up a degree or two in that race — if not profitable it outright — and that might have been sufficient on the finish of the season.

Whereas it may not be a clear comparability, think about the authorized doctrine of “final clear probability.” This can be a doctrine in tort/negligence legislation that can be utilized in a case the place two events are at fault, however the defendant had the “final clear probability” to keep away from the last word incident. Within the seminal case on the doctrine a plaintiff had tied a donkey alongside the facet of a street. The defendant sped by on a wagon at a excessive charge of pace, hanging and killing the donkey. Though each events had some degree of fault — the plaintiff for tying the donkey near the street, and the defendant for rushing — the defendant had the final probability to swerve and keep away from the donkey.

As such, the defendant was finally at fault.

One may make the identical argument right here, with a slight twist. In spite of everything, even when F1 knew shortly after the occasions of Singapore concerning the cause behind the crash, all Ferrari wanted to do was execute a clear pit cease and Massa is probably going the 2008 Drivers’ Champion when all is alleged and performed.

Now, whether or not that can wind up determinative, nonetheless, stays to be seen. In spite of everything, this incident wants higher legal professionals than me.

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