The 2008 Formula 1 season returned to prominence 15 years after its end. This is because Felipe Massa decided to question in court the accident involving Nelsinho Piquet at the Singapore GP, which benefited his then teammate Fernando Alonso.
The crash hurt the ex-Ferrari and prevented him from becoming champion at the time by just one point. Lewis Hamilton, who was from McLaren, was the champion that year after fourth place in the Interlagos race, in Brazil.
This weekend, Massa said again that he expects Ferrari’s support in the battle. The Italian team has not commented so far.
Understand the case that made Massa file a lawsuit against F1 and the FIA:
SEBASTIAO MOREIRA/EFE – 02.11.2008
1 – What happened?
On the 12th lap of the Singapore race, Renault driver Fernando Alonso went to the pits to make the first tire change. The stop was premature for the Spaniard, who started in 15th place. On the 17th lap, two laps later, Nelson Piquet Jr., Alonso’s teammate, purposely threw the rear of the single-seater at the exit of a curve and hit the circuit’s side barrier.
As it happened in a ‘risky’ place for the other drivers, the safety car was activated and intervened to remove Nelsinho’s Renault
ANTONIO LACERDA/EFE – 02.11.2008
The pilots took the opportunity to make stops. With that, Alonso, who had already stopped and was on new tires, gained the lead in the race and won a victory for Renault, after a two-year fast.
Massa, who had started on pole position and was leading the race, made a disastrous stop with the Ferrari and left the pit with the fuel hose still in the car.
Furthermore, the Brazilian ended up being punished for almost hitting Force India’s Adrian Sutil, and suffered a flat tire, which meant he was the 13th to see the checkered flag.
Hamilton took third place, scored six points and opened up an advantage in the race for the year’s title
XAVIER BERTRAL/EFE – 26.04.2008
2 – When did the case become public?
Almost a year after Massa’s frustration at losing the title at the Brazilian GP, in August 2009, the case became public through a statement of complaint from three-time F1 champion, Nelson Piquet.
Nelsinho’s father stated that there was a setup by Renault so that his son’s deliberate crash would help Alonso. Nelsinho himself left Renault and confessed to the FIA that he had crashed on purpose.
Due to the tone of the complaint, the FIA (International Automobile Federation) investigated and proved that Flavio Briatore’s Renault ordered the crash in order to benefit his teammate with the entry of the safety car.
Sebastiao Moreira/EFE – 25.11.2012
3 – Singaporegate Punishments
Renault’s then boss, Flavio Briatore, and the team’s engineering director, Pat Symonds, were tried by the FIA. The Italian Briatore was even banned from motor sports, and Symonds received a five-year suspension.
For making the complaint and cooperating with the investigations, Nelsinho Piquet did not receive punishment, but soon left the category.
Fernando Alonso, winner of the Singapore GP, was cleared on the grounds that he was unaware of the plan
Rubio/EFE – 23.08.2003
4 – Return of Briatore and Symonds
Briatore’s ban from motorsport was revoked a year after the trial, in 2010. In 2022, he returned to Formula 1, in a commercial area, and in 2023 he was photographed at the Monza Grand Prix, in Italy.
Already Massa was prevented from appearing in the same race, so as not to cause a commotion later that a Ferrari fan extended the banner ‘Felipe Massa world champion 2008’.
Symonds returned to F1 in 2011 as a team consultant at Marussia Virgin Racing, and is currently the category’s technical director.
Jennifer Lorenzini/Reuters – 02.09.2023
5 – Why did the case come back to light?
The controversy was dormant until March 2023, when Bernie Ecclestone, head of F1 for almost 40 years, made important revelations about the ‘Singaporegate’ episode during an interview with the website ‘F1 Insider’.
When talking about Lewis Hamilton’s titles, the Englishman said that the only seven-time champion in history was Michael Schumacher, as Hamilton was not the moral champion of 2008.
For the same newspaper, Ecclestone revealed that he had known about the intentional crash since 2008.
Massa’s lawyers relied on Ecclestone’s statements to take legal action. Since, according to FIA rules, a championship cannot have its results changed after it is finished.
As Nelsinho’s complaint was made in 2009 and Ecclestone’s confirmation in 2023, Massa’s defense seeks justice saying that the race in Singapore could have been cancelled, as well as the drivers’ results.
Antonio Lacerda/EFE – 02.11.2008
6 – What does Massa say?
The pilot criticized the lack of severe punishment against the actors in the episode and said that the title would be important for Brazil. The Brazilian’s lawyers sent Stefano Domenicali, current CEO of F1, and Mohammed Ben Sulayem, president of the FIA, a legal warning letter about the case.
A letter was sent to Briatore and Symonds asking them to preserve the documents proving ‘Singaporegate’.
As the action was filed in England, the procedure for sending letters is mandatory, so that it is possible to continue legal proceedings in the country
Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters – 16.03.2023
What Massa hopes is for it to be recognized that, if it weren’t for the crash in the Singapore stage, he would have been the 2008 champion.
Massa even said that he would agree to share the title with Hamilton, that year’s champion. The compensation claim could reach US$150 million, which at the current price is equivalent to R$729.8 million
SEBASTIAO MOREIRA/EFE – 02.11.2008
7 – What does Nelsinho say?
The pivot of the controversy seeks to stay away from the topic and stated ‘don’t judge’ the colleague’s lawsuit for the title or compensation in the courts. On the other hand, Nelsinho considers the ‘Singapurate’ episode resolved.
‘It’s something that passed, 15 years ago. It has been resolved. For him [Massa], he doesn’t think so. But for me, it passed. I had to put that behind me. It changed my life, but there’s not much I can do about it,’ he said.
FERNANDO BIZERRA JR/EFE – 18.10.2007
8 – What does Bernie Ecclestone, former Formula 1 boss, say?
The former leader is against Massa’s lawsuit and said that the Brazilian ‘only cares about the money’. ‘The chances of this [modificação do resultado] happen are zero’, he argued to the Swiss newspaper Blick.
Ecclestone believes that it is easier for Hamilton to be considered champion of the 2021 season — which was controversially won by Verstappen in the last stage — than for Massa to be recognized as the 2008 winner.
Massa went so far as to refute the former boss’s statements and said that the Brit ‘is afraid of everything that will come to light with the lawsuits’
ULISES RUIZ BASURTO/EFE – 28.10.2016
9 – What does Lewis Hamilton say?
At first, Hamilton claimed to have a weak memory and said he doesn’t remember the 2008 season very well: ‘I’m very focused on the here and now, I want to help my team get back to fighting for victories. So, I’m not too focused on what happened 15 years ago,’ he said during the 2023 Dutch GP.
You Massa’s lawyers hope that the seven-time champion will support the election, as he is an honorary citizen of Brazil and is an ‘important ambassador for the sport’. Hamilton’s current team principal at Mercedes, Toto Wolff, says that the German team is watching the case with interest, as they seek recognition of the driver as eight-time champion for the 2021 season.
On the last lap of the Abu Dhabi GP two years ago, race director Michael Masi allowed Verstappen to overtake unusually so that he could catch up to his opponent and, with new tires, win the race and the title.
Juan Carlos Cárdenas/EFE – 23.08.08
10 – What’s the next step?
There is still no action being taken in court, as the FIA and Formula 1 have asked for a longer period of time to respond to Massa’s action. The request was accepted by the Brazilian, and the response should happen this month.
An agreement between the two parties is not ruled out, taking into account that, in the history of the category, legal battles were avoided and confidential agreements were prioritized.
If the FIA and F1 do not provide feedback within the new deadline, or do not suggest an agreement, Massa’s team will initiate legal action
Stefano Rellandini/REUTERS – 30.08.20218