Former F1 driver Felipe Massa ready to go to court as he claims he was 'robbed' of 2008 title

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SAO PAULO (AP) — Former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa says he is ready to take Formula One's governing body to court to press his claims that he was “robbed” of the 2008 title, which he lost by one point to Lewis Hamilton.

Massa said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that he has given governing body FIA and Formula One Management until the end of next week to respond to a letter the Brazilian sent them this month, in which he claims both had “deliberately ignored the misconduct (at the Singapore Grand Prix) that stripped him of that title.”

The Brazilian added he is ”100% ready” to take the case to court if he hears nothing back before then.

“I trust and I really believe that for justice that we will show what happened was not correct,” the 42-year-old Massa told the AP at his apartment in Sao Paulo. “I am the champion, and I feel that. I feel that I have the title. The 16th champion of Formula One for Ferrari. We proved that season that we deserved it.”

Massa's claim centers around an infamous crash by Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jr. in Singapore in 2008, which led to a drawn-out scandal the following year after claims that he had crashed deliberately in order to help teammate Fernando Alonso win the race.

Massa decided to take action following an interview by former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone in March in which he said he learned in 2008 that the crash had been deliberate — long before Piquet Jr. made those claims himself the following year.

Ecclestone said he deliberately chose not to investigate the Singapore crash until after the end of the season, when it was too late to change the standings. Massa argues that such a decision was a breach of contract, accusing the two bodies of failing to preserve the integrity of the sport.

Piquet Jr.'s crash came at a point in the race when Massa was in the lead, and it brought out a safety car that squandered the Brazilian's advantage — while giving Alonso a massive edge as he was the only driver who had already made a pit stop to refuel.

Massa went on to finish out of the points in 13th place after a calamitous pit stop, while Hamilton finished third in that race.

The British driver won the first of his seven titles that year after a dramatic fifth-place finish at the Brazilian Grand Prix, which Massa won.

Renault was given a suspended two-year ban from F1 in 2009 over the crash, and its then team boss Flavio Briatore was banned indefinitely from the sport, although that punishment was later reduced.

The race results were allowed to stand, however.

“I lost my my peace because I knew that I was robbed,” Massa said. “Since then I was never relaxed.”

Surrounded by Ferrari items and trophies at his home, Massa said his potential lawsuit “is nothing against” Hamilton.

“This is against a race that was manipulated,” Massa said. “(The 2008 season) was an incredible championship. It was a big fight from the beginning to the end. It was a great championship from my side. I was the driver who won more races that year, who started in pole position more times as well.”

Massa said so far the only response he has received from Formula One was a request for him not to show up at this weekend's Italian Grand Prix at Monza, where some Ferrari fans have started placing banners calling him the real 2008 champion.

“We decided not to go,” Massa said. “It doesn’t change anything for our fight.”

Massa said his friends and family tried for many years to convince him to sue for the 2008 title, but he only decided to take action after he read Ecclestone's interview and saw unpublished footage this year of an interview by former F1 race director Charlie Whiting, who died in 2019.

Massa retired from the sport in 2017 after spending the last four years of his career at Williams.

“Formula One now is a different from Formula One from then, the FIA now is different from the FIA of the past," the Brazilian said. "I really hope they understand that what happened in the past was not fair for the sport and I really hope that they fix the case.”

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing