Massa’s bid to overturn 2008 championship result instigated by Ecclestone – Fittipaldi

2008 F1 season

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Felipe Massa’s efforts to bring a legal challenge over his 2008 world championship defeat were instigated by former Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, according to two-times world champion Emerson Fittipaldi.

The 2008 championship runner-up is reported to have assembled a legal team to look into the FIA’s response to that year’s Singapore Grand Prix. Massa’s move followed Ecclestone’s claim that he and then-FIA president Max Mosley could have taken earlier action over the outcome of the controversial race.

Fernando Alonso won the race after his Renault team instructed Nelson Piquet Jnr to crash their other car, in order to trigger a Safety Car period which his team mate had been primed to benefit from.

Massa led eventual champion Lewis Hamilton in the early stages of the race, but failed to score after his Ferrari team botched his pit stop when the drivers pitted in response to the Safety Car period Piquet deliberately caused. Hamilton finished the race third, out-scored Massa by six points and went on to win the title by one.

Ecclestone claimed last month the FIA “had enough information in time to investigate the matter” and they “should have cancelled the race in Singapore under these conditions.”

“That means it would never have happened for the world championship standings,” Ecclestone said. “Then Felipe Massa would have become world champion and not Lewis Hamilton.”

Ecclestone clashed with Hamilton last year after the 92-year-old defended his former driver Nelson Piquet – the father of the ‘Crashgate’ conspirator – over racist comments he made about the seven-times world champion. In response Hamilton said “older voices” should not be given a platform.

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Fittipaldi believes Ecclestone made his comments about the race purposefully to generate headlines. “I think who started this was Bernie Ecclestone,” Fittipaldi told The Mirror.

“Typical Bernie! Bernie wanted to create a polemic and this polemic that he’s creating, it’s just to generate some news.”

Fittipaldi said Massa’s chances of out-scoring Hamilton in Singapore were ultimately undone by Ferrari’s pit stop error.

“When you go backwards, in that race, Ferrari made a mistake during a pit stop,” he said. “That means the result of the race would not change a lot. It’s so difficult to reverse that. That’s my personal opinion.”

However Fittipaldi stressed he is “100 percent pro-Felipe Massa, for sure”, and described his disappointment at watching his fellow Brazilian’s narrow title defeat to Hamilton on home at the end of that season.

“I would love if Felipe would be world champion, being Brazilian, for sure. I was in Interlagos that year inside the McLaren pit with Lewis Hamilton. And when Felipe went by only two people, myself and my wife, stood up and screamed.

“Everybody was quiet. 15 seconds later, everybody stood up and started screaming and I didn’t understand why! But, anyway, that was the day that happened.”

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Keith Collantine
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30 comments on “Massa’s bid to overturn 2008 championship result instigated by Ecclestone – Fittipaldi”

  1. If there was a rule in place at the time saying any race where one team cheats should be nullified, why wasn’t the Australian Grand Prix nullified when Rubens Barrichello ‘cheated’ by leaving the pits when there was a red light? On that occasion, they just disqualified the driver involved rather than expunging the entire race from history. What makes Crashgate so special that it gets a rule to itself contradicting every other example of cheating in 70 years of Formula 1 history?

    1. @f1frog
      I’m not a lawyer, though there is a difference between a technical infringement or braking sporting rules and fixing the race result. Braking the technical rules even if it was done on purpose isn’t in the realms of cheating. For example, a player can do a red card foul on purpose but that doesn’t make him a cheater.

      A boxer can get disqualified from a fight for a low blow punch or for punching his opponent when he is down but that’s a whole different story to for example taking steroids to enhance performance. CrashGate and apart from being a fixed race, it involved the endangerment of people’s lives. Piquet put his own life, the other drivers, the marshals and even the spectators lives at risk just to keep his seat at Renault.

      What Massa should have understood is that he must never ever have listened to someone like Ecclestone who knew about what happened and covered it for the sake of his business.

      1. I’d argue there is already a precedent for amending a result due to cheating afterwards and that was when Schumacher was excluded from the 1997 WDC. Note in that instance they removed Schumachers points tally from him for the year but didn’t reward points to everyone else. As such I think the Massa legal action is doomed to fail from the off as exclusion of the race is not the correct course of action.

        1. That’s where it gets messy.
          Schumacher’s incident which he alone decided to do only involved two drivers.
          The decision Renault and Piquet Jr. took affected the whole field with the safety car. I’d say this is what Massa is looking into, along with the fact Bernie & co knew about it and did nothing.

      2. @tifoso1989 Leaving aside Formula 1’s own arcane regulations on this issue, ‘race fixing’ is a complicated notion in Formula 1. I’m not sure it’s a valid concept. There were 11 teams in 2008. Renault intervened in the race in underhand and dangerous fashion for Alonso’s benefit, sure. But it’s not the same as a football team, a match referee, a tennis player or a boxer ‘throwing’ a match or fight, meaning that one other side is guaranteed to win. Alonso had to complete the race ahead and the race was still a valid fight for the other teams involved. Massa didn’t beat Hamilton because Ferrari/he messed up his pit stop (and later spun of his own accord). Scrub Alonso’s win from the record books, sure, but where is the real justification for cancelling the entire race? ‘What if’ doesn’t work: what if Piquet hadn’t crashed? We don’t know. Maybe Massa would have spun somewhere else earlier. He was good at it. We also don’t know how the subsequent races would have panned out had Massa won. And added to all this is the question of when Ecclestone and Mosely supposedly knew about Crashgate. Could they have immediately rescinded the result? Or only after the season was completed? Is there any guarantee they would have actually been able to cancel the race? Wouldn’t this have gone to appeal and maybe even FIA arbitration and the courts?

    2. @f1frog
      Good point & other instances of drivers leaving pits with a red light on during races also exist, such as Montoya in the 2005 Canadian GP & Massa-Fisichella coincidently on the same circuit two years later.
      Generally, though, yes, all races that have featured any cheating should get nullified for consistency’s & fairness’ sake, including extreme examples like the 1990 Japanese GP, the entire 1994 season for Schumi, all races for RBR since the budget cap breach, etc.

      1. Itsmeagain (@)
        27th April 2023, 10:23

        So even MB’s season 2014 till, let’s say, 2018 cuze there illegal tyre testing?

    3. @f1frog I think what makes Singapore different is that the whole race was turned on its head by Piquet’s crash, to the point where it is impossible to know what might have happened had he not crashed.

      Obviously Alonso wouldn’t have won, but Rosberg (who also cheated during that race by refuelling in a closed pit lane) wouldn’t have been second either, not to mention the Red Bulls, who scored significant points by pitting in the moments before the safety car was deployed.

      From memory, Barrichello’s DQ in Australia 2008 came about just before the end of the race and had no bearing on the rest of the result. So it is hardly a fair comparison.

      1. @red-andy I agree that Barrichello’s DSQ had no bearing on the rest of the result and was only using it as a comparison because it is in the same season.

        But the reason the rule doesn’t make sense to me is, how can you decide when one person’s cheating has had a sufficient effect on the rest of the results to warrant the entire race being expunged from the record books? Another example would be the 1982 Brazilian Grand Prix. Gilles Villeneuve was leading from Nelson Piquet who, along with Keke Rosberg behind, were ‘cheating’ using water-cooled brakes. However, Villeneuve didn’t know this at the time and he crashed out under pressure from Piquet. You could argue that, had Piquet and Rosberg’s cars been of a legal weight, they would have been further behind and Villeneuve wouldn’t have made the mistake, so their cheating had a direct influence of the results of the race. So should this race be expunged from history?

        Every piece of cheating has some influence on the results of a Grand Prix, even ones like Barrichello in Australia 2008 (which obviously isn’t really cheating), and there is absolutely no precedent for entire races being wiped out for them so I simply don’t believe that the rules say Singapore needs to go.

        Another example would be Jerez 1997. According to Bernie Ecclestone’s rule, as Michael Schumacher cheated in that race by intentionally crashing, rather than just disqualifying him the entire race should have been declared null and void. So Schumacher should be declared champion of 1997 by a point.

        1. It’s a good point, didn’t know of this episode but makes sense that if the chasing car had been legal he wouldn’t have crashed under pressure.

  2. It has no chance what so ever as it was done and dusted. He should protest when it happenecd but didn’t.

    1. mark from Toronto
      27th April 2023, 5:01

      That was not possible as the revelations came later.

  3. “…Ecclestone made his comments about the race purposefully to generate headlines”

    NO!!!!! Shum mishtake shurely…Mr. E wouldn’t operate like that??

    1. Yeah, I don’t know whether Emerson Fittipaldi know this or just infers it from knowing the past, but it certainly seems likely.

    2. Joanna TURNER
      26th April 2023, 14:27

      For some reason Bernie Ecclestone seems to have developed a pathological hatred for Lewis Hamilton over the last few years He takes every opportunity to diss him. In my opinion BE is a nasty, bitter and unpleasant little man!

  4. The sooner people stop listening to Ecclestone and reporting anything related to him, the better.

  5. The championship result won’t ever change. There is no way of knowing what might have happened if Renault didn’t cheat. There are thousands of possibilities, some of which favour Massa, some of which favour Hamilton.

    What can – and should – happen, is that Alonso and Renault deleted from the results. They cheated in a scandalous way not seen before or since. Plenty of sports also do this when participants are, often much later, revealed to have engaged in cheating. The Singapore GP of 2008 has no winner, and if it has to have one, it definitely isn’t Fernando Alonso.

    1. But in F1 this is much harder to police as this particular case was a visible breach. But make no mistake teams cheat all the time, mostly politically by influencing FIA or even putting their own people within the organisation. The fraud and cheating is perpetual, it is just not visible on TV. If you start deleting teams and or people from the end result I bet you can do that every year. Just look at the recent 3 seasons in which we have seen in season regulatory or compound changes that benefitted a certain team. That’s fraudulent just as much in my opinion. Or the budget cap breach of RB. So, it would be quite hypocritical to go and correct things in hind-sight while FIA clearly isn’t capable of running a clean ship.

  6. Synopsis: Ecclestone gets his little authoritarian ego bruised by Hamilton and he sets off in revenge.
    Massa’s ‘honour in defeat’ was always weirdly over-rated. If you lived in Brazil after 2008, you’d know the antipathy stirred by diverse sources against Hamilton after the title win. He was gifted a completely undeserved race win in Spa by FIA (Lauda called it at the time the worst decision FIA ever made) which makes his sense of entitlement to 2008 galling. Likewise I suspect that if the post-Piquet race at Singapore had worked out differently, he’d finished ahead of Hamilton and he only needed Alonso’s points to be cancelled to have enough to ‘win’ the 2008 title, he’d be campaigning for that, not for cancellation of the entire race.

    1. Joanna TURNER
      26th April 2023, 14:30

      I agree 100% with your synopsis.

    2. @david-br yeah, you make a good point about him not chasing to get Fernando excluded, but the entire field instead.

      I really wish Felipe hadn’t started this. The only one who’s winning is Bernie once again.

    3. Yes, it’s very likely he’d come up with some “alonso didn’t deserve to be excluded from the race” thing.

    4. Spa 2008 is a valid counter argument. Hamilton’s time penalty was for illegally overtaking Kimi between the final corner and turn 1 after running wide at the final corner and gaining an advantage. He then gave the position back to Kimi then overtook him before the next corner. Arguably in part because it was raining and Kimi had no traction.

      The point is that the rule of “you have to wait until after the next corner before attempting a pass” was made a result of that incident, yet Hamilton was penalised on that basis. So Hamilton wasn’t exactly breaking any rules at the time, which combined with Kimi crashing out later in the lap meant that even if the stewards had made it a “give the place back” decision, that wasn’t possible. Yet the 25 second time penalty was upheld in another basis of terrible officiating.

      Massa can argue however much he wants but there’s no case here and never has a race been declared void because of cheating by a driver or team to my knoeldge. Even is Alonso was disqualified that wouldn’t result in the race being declared void, only that other drivers would move up in the order (there is at least one case where drivers weren’t moved up – can’t remember which race but I think was a fuel DQ at some point in the late 70s to late 80s).

      As an aside, declaring a race void because of officiating incompetence though is something I’d have no problem with.

  7. I see people talking about a lot of things, the question isn’t if Massa deserved the title or Ferrari made a mistake or what happened in other races. The question is: a manipulated result in an sporting event can be allowed or the given event should be cancelled? There’s no argument in the entire universe to allow that Singapure GP result to be valid. IF the FIA will change the championship result is another matter. In my opinion, FIA shoud at least recognize Massa’s title, let 2 champions to happen, it’s the right thing to do.

    1. couldntstopmyself
      26th April 2023, 16:07

      The question is: a manipulated result in an sporting event can be allowed or the given event should be cancelled?

      Why is the only alternative to cancel the whole event?
      In ‘the entire universe’ it is common practice to disqualify the cheating player (team in this case), and let the rest stand.
      The only question should have been: do you bump up the other finishers or leave the winner spot empty? Both have happened in various sports over time.

    2. Oh please…

      Spa 2008!

      Nothing more to be said.

    3. The Tour de France has attempted to answer this question by removing the title from the one person known to have cheated– but given the likelihood that others were also cheating, there is no official winner for those years.

      The most likely outcome of any legal actions would be that Alonso would be removed from the points, and Rosberg would win the race (something he was definitely on track to do). This wouldn’t help Massa– it would expand the points difference between he and Hamilton.

      1. Wow, so rosberg is gonna be pushing for legal action: he would then celebrate his first win, several years before he actually got one.

  8. Problem is you can’t take that title from Hamilton and give it to Massa, Lewis did nothing wrong and at that time (Brazil) non of them knew what really happened.

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