May 2, 2014, 11:38 AM EDT
Former Ferrari mechanic Nigel Stepney has died in a road traffic accident in the UK this morning at the age of 56.
The British engineer entered Formula 1 in the late 1970s, and worked his way up the ranks at teams such as Shadow and Benetton before joining Ferrari at the end of the 1990s. He was an intrinsic part of the ‘dream team’ that consisted of Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and Jean Todt that won five straight drivers’ titles and six constructors’ crowns.
However, he fell from grace when he became embroiled in the espionage scandal that marred the 2007 Formula 1 season. Stepney was accused of sabotage during the Monaco Grand Prix that year when a white powder was found inside the Ferrari fuel tanks.
This then escalated when it was revealed he had been sharing sensitive information about the Ferrari F2007 car with McLaren’s Mike Coughlan. Ultimately, it resulted in McLaren being thrown out of the constructors’ championship that year and receiving a fine of $100m from the World Motor Sport Council.
Stepney was immediately fired, and never returned to Formula 1. However, he had most recently been working for JRM Racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship as team manager.
“JRM regrets to announce that Nigel Stepney, the company’s Racing Team Manager and Technical Director, was killed in a car accident this morning. He was 56 years old and leaves his loving partner and daughter, Ash and Sabine Stepney.”
Team owner James Rumsey said: “Today, the motorsport world has lost one of its greatest characters and competitors. He will be sorely missed, and we send our sincere condolences to the many family and friends he leaves behind. Our prayers and thoughts are with Ash and Sabine.”
Nissan NISMO President Shoichi Miyatani also expressed his sincere sadness after working with Nigel for the past few years.
“It is with great sadness that we learn today of the loss of our friend, Nigel Stepney,” he said. “As the head of engineering at JRM, Nigel worked with NISMO since 2010. He led the JRM Racing team to the 2011 FIA GT1 World Driver’s Championship with the Nissan GT-R GT1 and most recently focused his efforts on the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, which won the 2013 Blancpain Endurance Series Pro-Am Championship in the hands of Nissan GT Academy team RJN.”
NBCSN analyst Steve Matchett tweeted out his sadness after hearing the news.
“Very saddened by the news of the death of Nigel,” he said. “A terrible accident, a terrible loss. Without question I owe my entire F1 career to him. I was only thinking of Nigel yesterday, remembering the tears in his eyes when the pit lane personnel became aware of the death of Ayrton.
“Curiously, he called me quite recently, out of the blue, a most unusual thing for him, just to ask how I was doing, to tell me he was happy.
“Sometimes the world doesn’t make much sense.”
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