Felipe Massa's lawyers seek compensation for lost 2008 Formula One title

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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.

The Letter Before Claim said the Brazilian, now 42, was robbed of the title through actions at the highest level that cost him tens of millions of euros in lost earnings and bonuses.

It said Massa had instructed lawyers in Britain, Brazil, the United States, Switzerland and France.

A Letter Before Claim is a required formal legal notice before court proceedings can be initiated.

There was no immediate response from the FIA and Formula One to a Reuters request for comment. Formula One is currently on an August shutdown.

"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, seen by Reuters, sent from the London offices of Enyo Law on Aug. 15.

"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."

The letter was addressed to Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali, previously Massa's team boss at Ferrari, and Paris-based FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

It warned that, without a satisfactory response to his potential claims, Massa intended to "pursue legal action in order to seek compensation for the harm he has suffered as well as recognition that, but for those unlawful acts, he would have been awarded the 2008 Championship."

It warned that in the absence of a substantive reply within 14 days, the lawyers "anticipate being instructed to commence legal proceedings in the English courts without further notice to you".

Massa was leading the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix when fellow-Brazilian Nelson Piquet crashed his Renault into the wall on lap 14 of the 61-lap race.

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 and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton eventually beat him by a point for the championship.

Piquet revealed in 2009 that he had been told to crash by Renault team bosses, who were subsequently banned. The scandal, dubbed 'crashgate', became one of the biggest in the sport's history.

Massa sought legal advice after former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone told a German website in March that he and former FIA president Max Mosley knew at the time that Piquet crashed deliberately but had not acted.

"I want justice. To understand if what happened was correct or not," Massa told Reuters in May.

"If the most important people from Formula One and the FIA knew in 2008 and didn't do anything, you think that was fair? It's not fair."

In the interview with www.f1-insider.com Ecclestone was quoted as saying, in translation, that "we wanted to protect the sport and save it from a huge scandal".

"I still feel sorry for Massa today," he added. "He was cheated out of the title he deserved, while Hamilton had all the luck in the world and won his first championship."

Ecclestone, now 92 and ousted as F1 supremo in 2017 after U.S.-based Liberty Media took over as the commercial rights holders, was not immediately available to confirm the quotes were accurate.

The Letter Before Claim said it was clear from the interview that "Mr Massa was the victim of a conspiracy committed by individuals at the highest level of F1 together with the FIA and Formula One Management."

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.

Mosley, who worked closely with Ecclestone, died in 2021 while FIA race director Charlie Whiting, another key figure, died in 2019.