Crashgate: Felipe Massa Seeks Redemption for the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix 15 Years Later

By: Lillie Clifton

Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton has amassed seven World Drivers Championship titles thus far during his 16-year career.[1] However, if former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa is correct in his legal challenge that he was robbed of the 2008 World Championship due to the events of “Crashgate,” Hamilton may only be the true recipient of six titles.[2]

The 2008 Singapore Grand Prix involved the infamous crash by Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jr. However, it was revealed in 2009 by Piquet Jr.’s father, famed F1 World Champion Nelson Piquet, that his son was under orders from Renault team bosses to deliberately crash his car during the 2008 race.[3] The intention behind “Crashgate” was for a safety car to be deployed and redirect the dynamic of the race to help Piquet Jr.’s teammate, Fernando Alonso, win the race.[4] The crash, which occurred at a point in the race when Massa was leading the Grand Prix, gave Alonso an advantage when the safety car was deployed as he was the only driver at that point to have already refueled at a pit stop.[5] With such a massive advantage allowing for Alonso to be crowned the winner of the Grand Prix instead of Massa, the crash not only altered the course of events for the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, but ultimately the 2008 World Championship.[6] Due to Massa not receiving the critical advantage in points that he would have received if the crash had not occurred, Massa went on to lose the 2008 title to Hamilton by one point.[7]

During an interview with F1-Insider in March 2023, Bernie Ecclestone, the former CEO of the Formula One Group (FOG), gave a bombshell revelation.[8] Ecclestone revealed that he and former Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) president Max Mosely knew that Piquet Jr.’s crash was deliberate before the 2008 title was decided.[9] According to Ecclestone, the FIA and Formula One Management (FOM) “should have cancelled the race in Singapore under these conditions,” but did not because they “wanted to protect the sport and save it from a huge scandal.”[10] Ecclestone went on to declare that if they had acted accordingly in cancelling the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, “Felipe Massa would have become world champion and not Lewis Hamilton.”[11]

However, Ecclestone now claims he does not “remember giving the interview” that indicated he and others knew more about Renault’s cheating scheme than they previously let on.[12] Despite Ecclestone’s attempt at a retraction, his statements were enough to make Massa take legal action over the coverup for failure to preserve the integrity of the sport.[13] While the FIA’s International Sporting Code states that any right to request a review expires 14 days after a competition occurs and four days before the FIA prize-giving ceremony for that year,[14] one of the central issues in Massa’s legal action is “whether or not the FIA statutes provide any scope for a previous championship to be challenged.”[15] Massa claims that his potential lawsuit “is nothing against Hamilton” but is everything “against a race that was manipulated.”[16] However, Massa claims that he will “fight to the end” to be declared the 2008 World Champion instead of Hamilton.[17] In addition to getting “back what is fair, which is the world championship”, Massa is also seeking monetary compensation for “Crashgate.”[18]

Massa’s legal team sent a Letter Before Claim, which must precede a lawsuit that occurs in the U.K. legal system, to the FIA and FOM stating that he suffered heavy financial loss by not becoming the 2008 World Champion.[19] His team has also issued document preservation notices to Formula One, the FIA, Ferrari, Renault, and several former Renault officials.[20] After Formula One and the FIA asked Massa’s legal team for additional time to address the claims being made against them, Massa’s team gave them until October 12, 2023 to respond.[21] If they do not respond by then, Massa’s lawyer, Bernardo Viana, revealed plans to execute a full-scale legal challenge that will involve multiple jurisdictions.[22]

If Massa’s legal challenge succeeds, it could open the door for other Formula One drivers to sue to overturn championships that ended in controversy.[23]

[1] See Guardian Sport, Lewis Hamilton: ranking his seven Formula One world titles, The Guardian (Nov. 15, 2020), [].

[2] SeeSahil Kapur, Former F1 racer threatens to sue to overturn superstar Lewis Hamilton’s 2008 championship, NBC News (Sept. 15, 2023), [].

[3] Madeline Coleman, F1’s ‘Crashgate’ scandal returns as Felipe Massa seeks justice for a lost title, The Athletic (Aug. 17, 2023), []; Jonathan Noble, How the FIA found out about Crashgate at Brazil 2008 F1 finale, but could not act, (Apr. 5, 2023), [].

[4] Kapur, supra note 3.

[5] Mauricio Savarese, Former F1 driver Felipe Massa ready to go to court as he claims he was ‘robbed’ of 2008 title, AP News (Aug. 31, 2023), [].

[6] Kapur, supra note 3.

[7] Toto Wolff: Felipe Massa legal challenge over 2008 title could leave F1 in disarray, BBC Sport (Sept. 19, 2023), [].

[8] Kapur, supra note 3. 

[9] Jonathan Noble, F1 exclusive: Why Massa’s legal team believes it can “bring the trophy home”, (Sept. 8, 2023), [].

[10] Noble, supra note 2.

[11] Ralph Bach, Ecclestone breaks silence over F1 scandal: Schumacher would be the sole record world champion, F1 Insider (March 1, 2023), [].

[12] Lydia Mee, F1 News: Bernie Ecclestone Backtracks After Felipe Massa Takes Legal Action Over “Crashgate”, F1Briefings (Aug. 18, 2023), [].

[13] Savarese, supra note 4. 

[14] Id.

[15] Noble, supra note 8. 

[16] Savarese, supra note 4.  

[17] Reuters, Felipe Massa vows to fight for Lewis Hamilton’s 2008 Formula One title, ESPN (Aug. 24, 2023, 10:47 AM), [].

[18] Coleman, supra note 7.

[19] Id.  

[20] Kapur, supra note 3.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Kapur, supra note 3.