Felipe Massa: Lewis Hamilton 2008 F1 win challenge explained, Formula 1 crash controversy - was it an accident

Massa is questioning Hamilton's right to the 2008 title 15 years after 'Crashgate'

Felipe Massa's legal fight to have his 2008 second-place F1 championship finish annulled continues to put Lewis Hamilton's win in jeopardy.

Hamilton won his first championship in thrilling fashion on the final day of his second full season with McLaren, passing Timo Glock to take fourth place during the final lap in pouring rain. Despite Massa winning the race and grabbing the checkered flag, the British driver won the championship by just one point.

But last year, scandal clouded that outcome after former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone made a startling disclosure about the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. If the outcome of that race had been scrubbed from the record, Massa would have won the title.

Ecclestone admitted to regretting not taking action at the time, and said he felt the Brazilian driver had been "cheated" out of the championship in an interview with F1 Insider.

Massa, who never again came close to winning the championship, responded by saying he was thinking about taking the FIA to court. He has since reaffirmed his position, asserting that he has a compelling argument on his side.

It's all to do with "Crashgate", an incident during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix involving the Renault Formula One team and their driver, Nelson Piquet Jr, which was later revealed to be a premeditated plan orchestrated by Renault's management. Here's everything you need to know about it.

Felipe Massa (left) is challenging Lewis Hamilton's 2008 F1 championship win in a row over 'Crashgate' (Photos: Getty Images)Felipe Massa (left) is challenging Lewis Hamilton's 2008 F1 championship win in a row over 'Crashgate' (Photos: Getty Images)
Felipe Massa (left) is challenging Lewis Hamilton's 2008 F1 championship win in a row over 'Crashgate' (Photos: Getty Images)

What was 'Crashgate'?

During the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, Piquet deliberately crashed his car into a wall on lap 14, bringing out the safety car. This strategic move was intended to give his teammate, Fernando Alonso, an advantage by pitting early and gaining track position. Alonso went on to win the race, while Piquet's crash disrupted the strategy of other teams and helped secure Renault's success.

Initially, it was considered an unfortunate racing incident, but suspicions began to arise after the race. In 2009, Piquet Jr. was dropped by Renault, and as a result of the tense relationship with the team, he revealed the orchestrated nature of the crash during an interview with the FIA.

Following Piquet Jr.'s revelation, an investigation was launched by the FIA, which ultimately led to Renault's team principal, Flavio Briatore, and their executive director of engineering, Pat Symonds, being implicated in the scandal. The FIA found evidence suggesting that Renault had instructed Piquet Jr. to deliberately crash to influence the outcome of the race.

In response to the investigation, Renault initially denied the allegations but later accepted responsibility for their actions. The team faced severe consequences for their involvement in the incident. Briatore received a lifetime ban from any involvement in FIA-sanctioned motorsport events, and Symonds was banned for five years.

Renault itself was given a two-year suspended ban, which meant they could continue competing in Formula One but were under probation; the team later underwent significant changes in management and ownership.

Nelson Piquet Jr drives during the final practice session prior to qualifying for the 2008 Singapore Formula One Grand Prix (Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty Images)Nelson Piquet Jr drives during the final practice session prior to qualifying for the 2008 Singapore Formula One Grand Prix (Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Nelson Piquet Jr drives during the final practice session prior to qualifying for the 2008 Singapore Formula One Grand Prix (Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

How did it affect Massa's season?

The incident had a significant impact on Massa, who was driving for Ferrari at the time and was one of the main contenders for the World Championship that year. At the time of the incident, Massa was leading the race comfortably and was on course to win.

However, due to the safety car deployment, he lost track position and dropped down the field when he made his pit stop. As a result, he finished the race in 13th place, scoring no points.

This had a significant impact on his championship campaign, as he lost valuable points that could have potentially helped him secure the title, and ended the season as the runner-up, just one point behind Hamilton.

In terms of championship standings, removing the Singapore race would close the gap between Massa and Hamilton, and the revised championship standings would see Massa gain 10 points and Hamilton lose six points.

Considering the actual championship result was decided by a single point, the revised standings would result in Massa overtaking Hamilton and becoming the 2008 Formula One World Champion by a margin of three points.

What has Felipe Massa said about it?

Felipe Massa has reiterated his position on the controversy, and has claimed that he has a strong case to support a legal challenge.

"I consider myself with great chances of having had that title," he told esportelandia. "If you remember Singapore, it was a steal. After Bernie Ecclestone spoke about it, we are trying to understand, legally, if there is any chance of going back."

He made the implication that Ecclestone's admission last year essentially proved the Singapore result was fixed, saying "it just goes to show that I was totally wronged by what happened that year, in a stolen race."

"This made me lift the antenna and go after justice," he added. "I'm not a lawyer, but everyone knows, I was clearly wronged and I think justice is part of our fight to get what happened right."

Once a race result is declared official by the governing body, it is typically considered final and cannot be overturned unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as a breach of regulations or an investigation into a serious misconduct.

While individual race results can be revised or penalties can be applied to drivers or teams for rule violations, it is highly unusual for championship standings to be retroactively changed based on the annulment of a specific race result. It remains uncertain whether a Massa legal fight would lead to a revision of the championship standings.