Historically, F1 has never been far from scandal and the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix was rife with it. While the events of that race were scandalous enough, Bernie Ecclestone recently decided to throw even more fuel on the fire with admissions that the FIA knew that Renault had cheated which has prompted Felipe Massa to seek legal action in an attempt to overturn the results.
To understand what Ecclestone said, we must first understand what happened in Singapore.
The 2008 Singapore Grand Prix
It was shaping up to be a good weekend for Ferrari with Felipe Massa taking pole position followed by Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen. Fernando Alonso in the Renault was P15.
The first 10 laps were going very well for Massa having pulled away from Hamilton with a three-second lead. But it was lap 14 that Nelson Piquet Jr. hit the wall at turn 17 triggering a safety car.
Many cars tried to get into the pits before they had closed and one of the few that managed to do so was Massa, but it all went wrong. Massa was prematurely released by Ferrari with the fuel hose still attached and into the path of Adrian Sutil, whom he narrowly avoided. Massa drove up to the end of the pit lane before stopping so the mechanics could remove the hose. He re-joined at the back of the pack.
The only driver to have pitted for fuel before Piquet’s crash was Fernando Alonso, Piquet’s teammate at Renault. Sure enough, by lap 42 Alonso had pitted again and secured the lead. He went on to win the race.
Massa finished P13, but Lewis Hamilton finished P3, putting himself and McLaren ahead of Ferrari in the championship.
At the time, Piquet claimed that his crash was due to a simple mistake, but after an investigation by the FIA, Piquet admitted that he was told to crash on purpose by Renault team principal, Flavio Briatore, and engineer, Pat Symonds.
In September 2009, Renault was charged with conspiracy and race fixing. They faced a two-year ban that was suspended unless further incidents of cheating were discovered. Renault initially was planning on suing Piquet for false allegations, but instead, Renault announced that they would do no such thing and that Briatore and Symonds would leave the team.
Why Are We Talking About This Now?
Massa is now planning to seek legal options to overturn the results after recent remarks from Bernie Ecclestone. So what did the infamously loud-mouthed Ecclestone say?
When talking to the German website, F1 Insider, Ecclestone said, that he and FIA president Max Mosley knew about the Renault plot and persuaded Piquet’s father, Nelson Sr., to keep it quiet.
“We decided not to do anything for now,” said Ecclestone. “We wanted to protect the sport and save it from a huge scandal. That’s why I used angelic tongues to persuade my former driver, Nelson Piquet [Sr.], to keep calm for the time being.
“Back then, there was a rule that a world championship classification after the FIA awards ceremony at the end of the year was untouchable. So Hamilton was presented with the trophy and everything was fine. We had enough information in time to investigate the matter.
“According to the statutes, we should have cancelled the race in Singapore under these conditions. That means it would never have happened for the championship standings. And then Felipe Massa would have become world champion and not Lewis Hamilton.”
Massa, for his part, told Motorsport.com that he was aware of the rule that the trophy cannot change hands once it has been decided, but wants to see if he has any legal options anyway.
“At the time, Ferrari’s lawyers told me about this rule,” said Massa. “We went to other lawyers and the answer was that nothing could be done. So I logically believed in this situation.
“But after 15 years, we hear that the [former] owner of the category says that he found out in 2008, together with the president of the FIA, and they did nothing to not tarnish the name of F1.
“This is very sad, to know the result of this race was supposed to be cancelled and I would have a title. In the end, I was the one who lost the most with this result. So, we are going after it to understand this.”
Will Anything Come of This?
There’s no precedent for cancelling an entire race and erasing it from the standings because of the actions of one team. This is despite Ecclestone’s claims that the statutes could have cancelled the race as previously it was only the driver or team who cheated that suffers as a result. Not once has an entire race result been erased.
For example, BAR cheated in 2005 when they were discovered to have a second hidden fuel tank at the San Marino Grand Prix. The drivers finished P3 and P5 but they were excluded from the race result, but the race result remained, BAR simply wasn’t included.
If the FIA did something about this, then only Alonso and Piquet would simply be removed from the race results. This would mean that Hamilton would go up into P2 and Massa would still be in P12 outside of the points. The championship standings wouldn’t change.
Massa himself admits that actually overturning the results likely won’t happen, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t be looking into it.
“There are rules,” said Massa, “and there are many things that, depending on the country, you cannot go back after 15 years to resolve a situation. But I intend to study the situation; study what the laws say, and the rules. We have to have an idea of what is possible to do.
“If you’ve been punished for something that wasn’t your fault, and it’s the product of a robbery, a stolen race, justice has to be served. In fact, the right situation is to cancel the result of that race. It is the only justice that can be done in a case like this.
“We have already seen other situations happening in sports, such as Lance Armstrong, who was proven to have doped, and he lost all the titles. What is the difference?”