Toto Wolff weighed in at the Singapore Grand Prix giving his opinion on the next legal action to be suffered by Formula One. Bernie Ecclestone recently revealed both he and Max Moseley (then president of the FIA) conspired to cover up cheating at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix which should have resulted in the race result being struck from the championship.
Then Felipe Massa would have been crowned drivers’ champion that year instead of Lewis Hamilton. When asked about the dispute at the team boss press interview in Singapore, Toto Wolff said: “Is there a civil case behind it? It will certainly set a precedent, whatever it is. We’re looking from the sidelines with curiosity.”
Open door for Mercedes legal challenge
The clear implication from his following comments was that should Massa be successful then this would open the door for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton to challenge the conclusion of the 2021 season.
“The FIA commented on the 2021 race with a clear statement so that’s why we are looking at it with interest,” he said.
At the time of the Hamilton/Verstappen battle for the title, the FIA was in transition with Jean Todt retiring and new boy Mohammed Ben Sulayem replacing him.
An FIA report was commissioned into the final race in 2021 by Todt and released under the leadership of Ben Sulayem. This is the “comment” Toto Wolff refers too and could presumably be challenged.
FIA admit “human error”
One of the issues Mercedes were upset over was the fact the prior to the safety car restart, only the lapped cars between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in P2 were allowed to uncap themselves.
Clearly had the entire field been reorganised, there would have been no time remaining for a final lap of racing. The FIA report concluded:
“The process of identifying lapped cars has up until now been a manual one and human error lead to the fact that not all cars were allowed to unlap themselves.”
Further it was stated that the FIA were introducing an automated system to identify which cars should uncap themselves in such a situation in the future.
2001 F1 champion “stands”
However, it was found “that the race director was acting in good faith and to the best of his knowledge given the difficult circumstances….. particularly acknowledging the significant time constraints for decisions to be made and the immense pressure being applied by the teams.”
“The results of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the FIA Formula One World Championship are valid, final and cannot now be changed,” it stated.
Mercedes did challenge the result but withdrew its threat of legal action before the final standings of the season were confirmed by the FIA.
However, Toto Wolff appeared to indicate it is these findings in the FIA report which could be challenged were the current Massa court case to find the decisions of the FIA can be reversed.
Of course for Lewis Hamilton were Massa to be successful he would lose one of his F1 titles and no longer hold the joint record of seven with Michael Schumacher.
However there is a significant difference between the 2008 cheating which Ecclestone said he and Mosely knew about but covered up and the 2001 Abu Dhabi affair described by the FIA as “human error.”
Now Toto appears to have made a U-Turn as he tells motorsport.com he doesn’t believe Massa will be successful in his claim.
Massa has ‘no case’
“I don’t think he has a case, to be honest,” said Wolff. “We are signing up to sporting regulations. They’re very clear, and you commit as a licence holder.
“If everybody were to open up situations then the sport would be in disarray, and especially when you look at the full championships: there’s so many things that have an influence whether you win or lose that I don’t see the case to be honest.
“On the civil case side, I don’t know, let’s evaluate whether there’s some damages that could be claimed. I think reputation, they have a difficult position, what is it? But yeah, for me, this is like watching a telenovela, or soap opera playing out in front of me,” concluded the Mercedes boss.
Red Bull’s Dr. Helmut Marko also gave his opinion on the matter and claimed the cheating by Renault was plain for all to see as it happened.
“Cheating” clear for all to see
“Even the choice of lap for the [Alonso] stop was suspicious. Afterwards, it was an open secret. I just wondered why it took so long for this matter to come to light.”
Fernando Alonso then driving for Renault had stopped early for fresh tyres and fuel in the 2008 race in Singapore. Then his team mate mysteriously crashed for no apparent reason and this had due to the effect of refuelling, handed Alonso the lead of the race.
Whilst Marko sees the possibility for Massa to win his case, he cautions against the subsequent consequences.
“If there are new facts, then the case can be solved. And then the chances for Massa are not so bad. The only question is, where would we end up if we have to re-evaluate many other races where incidents have also occurred?” said Marko.
Risk of more FIA challenges irrelevant
Of course the jeopardy of a whole list of new legal action will not concern those who judge the Massa claim, though it might affect what the FIA actually release as evidence,
Felipe is unmoved by Wolff’s negative assessment of his chances of success and said, “I think this just shows that we are on the right path and that people in F1 are realising the seriousness and importance of our case.”
He added: “As I’ve always said, I’m seeking justice, my childhood dream, a title for an entire nation, for Brazilians. And for the tifosi too.
“This is entirely my and my family’s fight, so we did everything we could to have the best professionals in the world on our side.”
Hamilton proven disingenuous
Felipe has called on the current FIA officials to be transparent about the records they have on the issue.
“I hope today’s FIA and FOM are different [from 2008],” he said. “The two entities have the chance to prove this, repairing the mistakes of the past, for the good of the sport.”
When asked about the possibility of losing one of his world titles were the Massa claim to be successful, he declared he was “not interested in the past” and only “looking forward.”
Yet a week earlier, Hamilton ranted that Verstappen’s previous team mates were inferior to those he had faced in an attempt to diminish the current success the Dutch world champion is experiencing.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 19, 2023