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'Crashgate' explained: The F1 scandal which puts Lewis Hamilton's world title win under threat

'Crashgate' explained: The F1 scandal which puts Lewis Hamilton's world title win under threat

'Crashgate' explained: The F1 scandal which puts Lewis Hamilton's world title win under threat

'Crashgate' explained: The F1 scandal which puts Lewis Hamilton's world title win under threat

Crashgate! It's not a phrase most Formula 1 fans will have heard for a while, especially if they came to the sport at any point in the last decade.

It is very much back in the headlines though, in the form of some fresh controversy surrounding Lewis Hamilton's 2008 world championship win - and specifically the Singapore Grand Prix of that year.

If you need a refresher, or if you're coming in completely fresh and have no idea what Felipe Massa is so angry about, welcome!

It's a story of rule-bending, rule-breaking and cover-ups, and it could result in Hamilton's 2008 world title being taken away from him 15 years after the fact.

That last part is the most important thing to keep in mind here. Because of the fallout from one incident a decade-and-a-half ago, the joint holder of the all-time F1 record for world titles could yet fall back behind Michael Schumacher.

The 'Crashgate' incident

Every story has a moment where everything turns on its head, and in this case, that moment was Nelson Piquet Jr. rounding turn 17 on lap 14 of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. The Brazilian stuck his Renault emphatically in the wall on the exit, bringing out a safety car.

That gave a massive advantage to exactly one man - Fernando Alonso, Piquet's Renault team-mate, who had pitted just before the crash and was vaulted to the head of the field as the rest of the field took advantage of the 'cheap' stop under the safety car.

Suddenly Alonso, who had started all the way back in 15th on the grid, was at a huge advantage, as the rules in 2008 stated that no driver could pit under the safety car until the pack was all together. He went on to win the race, with Hamilton in third and the Briton's title rival Massa finishing out of the points entirely.

A massive, once-in-a-career stroke of luck for Alonso. Or so it seemed.

'Crashgate' fallout

Alonso's stroke of good fortune was taken at face value at the time, and Piquet returned to Renault for the 2009 season despite a year of poor results. However, after he failed to score a single point through 10 races in 2009, Piquet was out and test driver Romain Grosjean replaced him.

Then the Brazilian went nuclear.

The split from Renault wasn't a clean and quiet affair, and in the week of his departure - announced at the start of August - Piquet went to the FIA to allege that the team had asked him to crash deliberately in order to give Alonso his pit-stop advantage.

The team was charged by the FIA in early September, and a week later announced it was opening legal action against Piquet for attempting to 'blackmail' them into letting him keep his seat for the rest of the season.

However, just days later, they backed down, saying they would not contest the charges. Managing director Flavio Briatore and engineering director Pat Symonds left the team immediately.

What happened next?

Briatore was handed an effective lifetime ban from any event sanctioned by the FIA, while Symonds - who admitted wrongdoing and expressed regret - was banned for five years. He later returned as Williams' chief technical officer, and is now in the same role for Formula 1.

Pat Symonds and Fernando Alonso

Renault was given a suspended ban from the sport, while Alonso and his mechanics were found innocent of any wrongdoing.

On the track, the six points gained by Hamilton over Massa in the affected race proved absolutely crucial with the McLaren driver winning the title by a single point.

Why does it matter now?

The short answer is: because Bernie Ecclestone. The now 92-year-old Ecclestone was F1's CEO at the time of the incident, running the sport with then FIA president Max Mosley.

The matter had broadly been lain to rest for some time until this year, when Ecclestone mentioned in an interview that he and Mosley had known about Piquet and Renault's wrongdoing far before the matter ever came to light, and covered it up to - as he called it - protect the sport from a scandal.

Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley

Had the investigation been started when the sport's bosses actually known about the wrongdoing, the result of the Singapore race would have been nullified and the race scrubbed from the history books, giving Massa the title by five points.

Instead, as Ecclestone explained, the rules at the time stated that the standings were written in stone after the end-of-season awards ceremony and could not be retroactively altered.

Massa, understandably, wasn't best pleased to hear that the sport's leaders placed a PR hit over the integrity of the competition.

The Brazilian is now exploring his legal options, and the 'Crashgate' saga could end up in court once again.

What they said about 'Crashgate'

Bernie Ecclestone [2023]: "I still feel sorry for Massa today. He won his final at his home race in Sao Paulo, did everything right. He was cheated out of the title he deserved, while Hamilton had all the luck in the world and won his first championship.

"Today I would have handled it differently. That's why, for me, Michael Schumacher is still the sole record world champion. Even if the statistics say otherwise."

Felipe Massa [2023]: "This is very sad, to know the result of this race was supposed to be cancelled and I would have a title. In the end, I was the one who lost the most with this result. So, we are going after it to understand all this."

"We have already seen other situations happening in sports, such as Lance Armstrong (cyclist), who was proven to have doped, and he lost all the titles. What is the difference?"

Felipe Massa [2009]: "Everything that happened was robbery but nothing has happened in terms of the race. The result didn't change. This is not right. The robbery changed the championship. I lost [the title] by one point."

Lewis Hamilton [2009]: "I think all we can say is that it was a tough season, things happened and there were lots of what-ifs' throughout the season. We had quite a fair battle throughout and I've always found him to be a fair driver. So I'm a bit surprised and shocked to hear him say that, to be honest."

What happens next?

For the time being, we wait. It's hard to imagine that Hamilton won't be asked about the matter the next time he faces the media, but thanks to the cancellation of the Chinese Grand Prix that may not be until the Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the end of the month.

Massa's legal representation will likely need a good amount of time to go over relevant rules, documents, and historical precedents before deciding if they can go forward with a challenge - and any challenge would likely take months, if not a year or more, to reach a conclusion.

READ MORE: Who is Angela Cullen? Confidante and rock for F1 icon Lewis Hamilton

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