Former Ferrari chief mechanic Nigel Stepney was killed after being struck by a truck on the M20 motorway on Friday morning. He was 56.
Although inevitably his name will always be associated with the unfortunate 2007 ‘Spygate’ scandal – an affair that cost him his career in F1 – he should be acknowledged as a key member of the dream team that achieved so much success in the Michael Schumacher era. He was also a colourful and straight speaking character who had many friends in the business.
Stepney began his career in touring cars, and later worked for Shadow, Lotus (with Elio de Angelis and Ayrton Senna) and Benetton (with Nelson Piquet and Michael Schumacher).
He joined Ferrari at the end of 1992, shortly before Jean Todt was headhunted from Peugeot as the new team boss. Stepney’s job was to introduce ‘British’ working practices to the Ferrari race team, which was lacking in organisation.
He played a key role in drilling the mechanics and especially in improving reliability – one of the key elements that brought Schumacher so much success from 2000 onwards. He eventual earned the job title of head of performance development.
Only last week former Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello emphasised Stepney’s role in conversation with this writer: “Nigel was a super chief mechanic He was able to really go after reliability and everything. There were people who didn’t like him there, because he was hard on people and so on, but we cannot deny the fact that he was unbelievable in making reliability a big focus.”
After the spy scandal he re-emerged in sportscar racing, latterly with the JRM outfit in the WEC and the Blancpain GT series