RIO DE JANEIRO: Lawyers for former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa have started legal action against Formula One bosses and the governing FIA seeking substantial damages resulting from an alleged ‘conspiracy’ that denied him the 2008 championship.

A formal eight-page Letter Before Claim, seen by Reuters, was sent to Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali and Paris-based FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem on Aug 15.

Such a letter is a required formal legal notice before court proceedings.

London-based Enyo Law said Brazilian Massa, now 42, had been “the victim of a conspiracy committed by individuals at the highest level of F1 together with the FIA and Formula One Management.”

It said Massa had lost out on tens of millions of euros in lost earnings and bonuses as a result of another driver’s deliberate crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix that was allegedly covered up before becoming a scandal in 2009.

The crash cost Massa vital points in a season where he ultimately lost out by a single point to McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, the first of the Briton’s record-equalling seven.

“Simply put, Mr Massa is the rightful 2008 Driver’s Champion, and F1 and FIA deliberately ignored the misconduct that cheated him out of that title,” said the letter.

“Mr Massa is unable to fully quantify his losses at this stage but estimates that they are likely to exceed tens of millions of Euros.

“This amount does not cover the serious moral and reputational losses suffered by Mr Massa.”

Massa sought legal advice after former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone was quoted in March as saying he and former FIA president Max Mosley knew in 2008 that then-Renault driver Nelson Piquet’s crash was deliberate but had not acted.

There was no immediate response from the FIA and Formula One, which is currently on an August shutdown.

Ecclestone, 92, told Reuters by telephone from Switzerland he could not remember saying the key quotes attributed to him.

“I don’t remember any of this, to be honest,” said the Briton, who was replaced as F1 supremo in 2017 after US-based Liberty Media took over as commercial rights holders.

“I don’t remember giving the interview for sure.”

He said neither Massa nor the Brazilian’s lawyers had approached him to ask what he might have said.

Massa was leading the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix from pole position when fellow Brazilian Piquet crashed into the wall on lap 14 of 61.

The crash triggered the safety car and benefited Piquet’s Spanish team mate Fernando Alonso, who won the race. Massa failed to score after a bungled pitstop.

Piquet revealed in 2009 that he had been told to crash by Renault team bosses, who were subsequently banned.

In this year’s interview with www.f1-insider.com Ecclestone was quoted as saying he still felt sorry for Massa: “He was cheated out of the title he deserved, while Hamilton had all the luck in the world and won his first championship.”

Massa told Reuters in May that he wanted justice.

“If the most important people from Formula One and the FIA knew in 2008 and didnt do anything, you think that was fair? Its not fair,” he said.

The lawyers’ letter warned that, without a satisfactory response, Massa intended to “pursue legal action in order to seek compensation for the harm he has suffered.”

He also wanted “recognition that, but for those unlawful acts, he would have been awarded the 2008 Championship.” The lawyers said that, in the absence of a substantive reply within 14 days, they expected to be instructed “to commence legal proceedings in the English courts without further notice to you”.

Massa did not win again after 2008, with the Brazilian suffering a near-fatal head injury at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix. He retired in 2017.

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2023

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