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Toto Wolff watches Massa legal case for parallels with Hamilton’s 2021 title bid

The Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, has indicated the team could challenge the controversial decision that cost Lewis Hamilton the 2021 world championship. Wolff acknowledged that the current legal case Felipe Massa has brought against Formula One and the FIA might set a precedent that would have a direct influence on Hamilton’s claim to the title.

Massa has taken legal action over the “crashgate” affair in 2008, when he lost the title to Hamilton by a single point. At the Singapore Grand Prix that year Massa was leading when Renault orchestrated a crash by Nelson Piquet Jr in order to benefit his teammate Fernando Alonso. During the safety car period that was triggered by the crash, when Massa went into the pits Ferrari released him with the fuel hose attached, he was penalised and finished 13th.

Renault were investigated and punished but only long after the season was concluded. Massa’s case is based on the premise that F1 and the FIA knew at the time the incident had been orchestrated but did nothing. His lawyers have stated they “deliberately ignored the misconduct that cheated him out of that title”.

The Brazilian’s intent is to overturn the result of the 2008 championship to claim the title as his own. In Singapore this weekend, Wolff acknowledged there was a potential parallel to Hamilton’s case.

“This is clearly not something that anybody saw coming, the rules are pretty clear in Formula One,” he said. “If there’s a civil case behind it, it would certainly set a precedent, whatever it is. We are looking from the sidelines with curiosity.”

In 2021 the then race director Michael Masi’s interpretation of the rules during a late safety car period cost Hamilton the win which Max Verstappen took and with it the title. Mercedes chose not to take further legal action at the time but the subsequent FIA investigation concluded that there had been a “human error” at the time. Masi was dismissed by the FIA shortly afterwards.

In reference to it deciding the championship and the potential precedent set by Massa’s case, Wolff pointedly noted the FIA had already in effect admitted culpability. “The FIA commented on the 2021 race, with a clear statement,” he said. “So that’s why we are looking at it with interest.”

With F1 back in Singapore this weekend, the attention has focused on whether this might be the best chance for any team to finally end Red Bull’s unbeaten run this season. The street circuit is least suited to their car and there is a real sense that a challenge might emerge from Ferarri, Mercedes and McLaren, with the world champion, Verstappen, on a run of 10 straight victories and noting he expected the competition at Marina Bay to be “very tight”.

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Certainly in practice the Red Bulls looked some way off finding their optimum performance. Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz topped the first session for Ferrari, running which was interrupted three times by a hazard unique to Singapore of large lizards sauntering across the track. In the night running of FP2, which remained lizard-free, Ferrari were once more on top with Sainz in front of Leclerc and Mercedes’ George Russell in third. Verstappen and his teammate Sergio Pérez could manage only eighth and seventh, struggling for grip on a circuit where tyre temperature is absolutely key.

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