NIGEL STEPNEY, the former chief mechanic at Scuderia Ferrari who was found guilty of industrial espionage during his time at the Formula One team, has died after being struck by a vehicle on the M20 near Ashford, Kent.
Stepney, who was married with one daughter, was partially credited with helping Ferrari achieve F1 dominance in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
At the time of his death, Stepney was the racing team manager and technical director of JRM Group, positions he had held since joining the company in 2010. He was most recently involved in leading the development of the 2014-specification Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 and was scheduled to head the team supporting customers using the car across the world in the current season.
In a statement released today, James Rumsey, the owner of JRM, said: “The motorsport world has lost one of its greatest characters and competitors. We certainly could not have achieved our level of success without his leadership and experience.”
Shoichi Miyatani, president of Nismo, Nissan’s motorsport division, said: “The engineers at NISMO enjoyed working with Nigel, learning a great deal from a man whose entire career was devoted to motorsport.”
Despite his success, Stepney’s career was blighted in 2007 by accusations of spying by his then employer, F1 team Scuderia Ferrari. Ferrari had accused Stepney of passing confidential information concerning its racing cars to Mike Coughlan, the chief designer of rival F1 team, McLaren. FIA, the motorsport organising body, found McLaren guilty of receiving information from Ferrari and fined it £60m.
Three years later, in 2010, Stepney was found guilty by an Italian court of “sabotage, industrial espionage, sporting fraud and attempted serious injury”. He was sentenced to 20 months in prison and given a £500 fine. He did not serve his sentence and never returned to F1.
Long afterwards, Stepney continued to downplay his involvement in the scandal. In an interview in 2013, he said, “As far as information passing [the document he was accused of passing to Mike Coughlan] when they showed me the document, I had not seen 90% of the information on it.”