By JONATHAN McEVOY
23rd June 2007
Formula One was in shock last night after a leading British mechanic was
under criminal investigation for allegedly sabotaging Ferrari.
Nigel Stepney, a key figure throughout the Michael Schumacher era, is on
gardening leave on suspicion of tampering with two of the team's cars
prior to the Monaco Grand Prix.
The sensational accusations centre on a mystery powder found in and
around the fuel tanks belonging to Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa six
days before the sport's Blue Riband race on May 27.
The contaminated parts were replaced and the powder sent for scientific
analysis with Italian police in Parma.
Now Ferrari have started court action in Modena, near their base in
Maranello. A Scuderia spokesman confirmed yesterday: "Nigel is still an
employee but we have brought an action against him. It is related to his
It is understood that suspicion fell on Stepney, 48, because he is known
to be disenchanted with his Ferrari career.
He harboured a desire to step in to Ross Brawn's role as technical
director when the Manchester-born guru left for a year's sabbatical
following Schumacher's retirement at the end of last season.
Instead, the Italians turned to two of their compatriots. Stefano
Domenicali became sporting director and Mario Almondo technical
director, with team principal Jean Todt elevated to managing director.
It was a bitter blow for Stepney, from Leamington Spa, and he voiced his
frustration at the start of February. He complained publicly that he no
longer felt fulfilled within the company and agitated for a move.
The criticism did not play well with the Maranello hierarchy.
In what he perceived as payback for his outburst, they told him that his
deployment as race and test technical manager would be factory based,
though he was seen at some grand prix early on this year.
Stepney, who is on holiday in Asia with his girlfriend Ash, was
unavailable for comment last night. But a close friend told Sportsmail:
"It's a bolt from the blue. He was annoyed by the way he'd been treated,
but he's been there for 15 years, so you really can't believe he'd do
anything like this."
All kinds of wild theories had free rein yesterday, with some even
suggesting that Ferrari are acting out of spite to discredit Stepney
because he wants away. He is strongly tipped to join Honda next year
with Brawn also high on their wish list.
It is certain, however, that if the claims are proved Stepney will not
only lose his 750,000 job but also find himself unemployable in Formula
One and possibly in jail.
The saga comes soon after two former Ferrari engineers were found guilty
of industrial espionage following a 12-month court case. Angelo Santini
and Mauro Iacconi were sentenced in April to nine months and 16 months
respectively, pending appeal, for revealing secrets to their new
Regardless of where the legal process leads, the Stepney incident
highlights the difficulty Ferrari are encountering in coming to terms
with several key personnel changes in the last nine months.
They lie a telling 35 points behind McLaren in the constructors'
standings after seven of the 17 races.
Niki Lauda, who won two of his three world titles with Ferrari, said:
"Clearly this does not help. It's like nobody can trust anybody. It's
hard to be a top, fully-motivated Formula One team with all this going
Stepney, who started out as an apprentice mechanic at 16, joined Ferrari
in 1992 and was long-time chief mechanic throughout Schumacher's glory
Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton has revealed how he might reluctantly need to
flee Britain to live a normal life.
The 22-year-old McLaren driver said: "I want to stay here. I really do.
It's great to a certain point having all the attention but then
sometimes it just gets too much. You just want to have a quiet meal with
your friends or family, but you don't get left alone.
"I can only imagine that it is going to get worse and worse, so if and
when I have to move that will be the reason."
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