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“Spygate” protagonist Nigel Stepney killed in mystery road accident
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Posted By: James Allen  |  02 May 2014   |  4:55 pm GMT  |  109 comments

Nigel Stepney, one of the key figures in Ferrari’s all conquering F1 team which won five world titles with Michael Schumacher in the 2000s has been killed in a mysterious road accident in Kent, England.

Stepney, who was 56 years old at the time of the accident, is perhaps best remembered for his part in the 2007 Spygate scandal, whereby he passed intellectual property relating to the design and operation of Ferrari F1 cars to McLaren designer Mike Coughlan, a scandal that culminated in McLaren being fined US $100 million by the FIA, then under the presidency of Max Mosley.

In one of the more curious episodes of recent times, he was also accused by Ferrari of trying to sabotage one of the cars by putting powder in the fuel tank.

It was a troubled end to a relationship which had brought great success to the Scuderia. Stepney was the chief mechanic and working under technical director Ross Brawn he brought a military level of discipline to the mechanics at the team which raised the standard of their work and especially their pit stops. Along with Brawn, designer Rory Byrne, Jean Todt, engine boss Paolo Martinelli and Stefano Domenicali, they were the figures behind the astonishing run of success.

It is believed that Stepney became disaffected when he was not promoted as the management shuffled around in the wake of Schumacher’s retirement and Ross Brawn’s departure on sabbatical.


Stepney’s death is shrouded in mystery. He appears to have parked a van on the hard shoulder of the M20 motorway and according to police, “For reasons yet to be established, the man appears to have entered the carriageway and was then in collision with an articulated goods vehicle. He was pronounced deceased at the scene.”


Stepney left Ferrari and more recently was working with NISMO and its president Shoichi Miyatani, issued a statement this evening,

“It is with great sadness that we learn today of the loss of our friend, Nigel Stepney.

“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.”

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109 Comments
  1. shaboopi says:

    Wow. Not sure what to say but it seems tragedy is on the news front more often than not. Quite a loss.

  2. zombie says:

    RIP ! He fell from the graces for his mindless acts in 2007. As James has mentioned in his article, he was one of the architects of Scuderia’s greatest period of success.

    1. r says:

      I remember him more for the pit lane incident where schumacher broke his leg. I really cant remember the details though but when the Mclaren thing happened his name was already familiar to me. In fact he is the only pit person in the 15 years + i have watched that I could name.

      Anyone able to fill in the details of that pit lane incident?

      1. Andrew Carter says:

        Spain 2000, Schumacher pulled away from the pits while the fuel hose, held by Stepney, was still attached.

        He was also one of the Benetton mechanics hit by a stray wheel in the pits at Imola 94.

      2. kibz says:

        He was manning the fuel rig and it Shumacher departed before the rig was removed, dragging him for a meter or so. Got some injuries

      3. Steve Rogers says:

        That’s his claim to fame for me too… riding the jack down the pit lane. He seemed a nice guy in interviews after that event.

  3. Michael Prestia says:

    Very sad news… Rest in Peace.

  4. Darren says:

    I am shocked and saddened to hear of his passing. I live near the M20 – the road where he was killed. This is the second fatal accident on that section of motorway within a month!

  5. goferet says:

    Oh man, life is so brutal.

    Life always has the ability to leave us in total shock when we least expect it.

    Condolences go out to Nigel’s family and friends, during this trying time.

    RIP Nigel and God bless.

    1. Gaz Boy says:

      My sentiments entirely.
      This is turning into something of a tragic, even jinxed year, what with Michael in a coma, Jenson Button’s dad John dying suddenly of a heart attack and now Nigel Stepney involved in a fatal road crash.
      Kind of puts into perspective how precious life is.

      1. goferet says:

        @ Gaz Boy

        For sure, as the cliche goes we should live each day as it’s our last for you just never know.

    2. AlexD says:

      goferet, I always feel sad when people die. I know how painful it is for families. I went through this myself. Yet, noone should be surprised. You seem to be good with statistics…very human being is going to die sooner or later, one way or another. We should never be caught by surprised and in fact I believe we should live our life as if this day was the last day. We should not be arrogant thinking that we have eternity ahead of us.

      1. goferet says:

        @ AlexD

        Yes it’s true, everybody dies but what always catches us by surprise and shocks us is the sudden deaths.

        Am stuck with the notion that people should die of old age.

  6. Delgado says:

    Was the poor fellow a married man and did he leave behind any children?

    1. Sebee says:

      We know he was married. His wife was the one I think that brought the Ferrari stuff to the copy place before the clerk(an F1 fan) connected the dots. I think that’s the story.

      1. justafan says:

        That was Coughlan’s wife who did the stuff you described.

      2. Sebee says:

        Wires get crossed with time. Indeed, my facts are quite off. Shame on me, I read that Wired article at least thrice.

      3. Luciano says:

        Wasn’t it Mike Coughlan’s wife who took the stuff to the copy shop?

      4. Doug says:

        It was Mike Coughlan’s wife..the guy Nigel gave the documents too. ;-)

    2. Chris says:

      I read on BBC he leaves a wife and two children

    3. Optimaximal says:

      Yes, a wife and a daughter.

      Incidentally, Spygate was only discovered because his wife tried to photocopy the Ferrari documents in a local shop.

      1. justafan says:

        It was Mike’s wife.

      2. stoic says:

        I thought it was Coughlan’s wife?

      3. Optimaximal says:

        Yes, my mistake.

    4. Scuderia McLaren says:

      Yes a child Ash and a wife Sabine.

      All this man tried to do was keep Ferrari honest and win with integrity. Though those aspect shall never be reported. Those who know understand he wasn’t the problem in 2007.

      1. justafan says:

        The doughtier is called Sabine.

      2. Scuderia McLaren says:

        Yes i knew that, I was typing too quick. Thanks for the correction.

        *daughter

    5. F1interested says:

      A daughter called Sabine, after Schumi’s press lady.

    6. Cassie says:

      Yes he left behind 4 children. Not many people know about the 3 he had from a previous marriage. He also leaves an ex-wife and current partner. I happen to be his daughter. Thanks for your comments.

      1. Pete says:

        Deepest sympathies for your loss.

      2. FastGuy says:

        +1

      3. goferet says:

        @ Cassie

        Blessings to you and the family.

      4. Chris from Philadelphia says:

        If I may, I would like to offer the condolences from myself and the thousands of people across the world that shared your father’s love of F1. It comes as such a shock and I for one looked up to Mr. Stepney for his professional excellence, flaws or no flaws.

        Stay strong, Cassie.

      5. super seven says:

        Please accept my deepest condolances.

      6. Chromatic says:

        Cassie

        regards to you and your family.

      7. Quade says:

        Keep strong and accept my deepest condolences.

      8. jules0711 says:

        Cassie, please accept my sincere condolences on the sudden loss of your father. I have lost a loved one in an accident, but I can’t imagine the shock and grief that you and your family are going through at the moment.

      9. LorryDriver says:

        My deepest condolences,

        i was one of the dutch lorry drivers who passed by seconds after it happened. I was and am shocked. I cant understand how it could happen to a man who was familiar with very high speeds.

        God’s Bless

    7. Yes, he leaves behind a partner Ash and daughter Sabine.

      Although it is worth saying that I dont think that whether you procreate or not makes your passing any more or less sad, I would hope we are all loved by people whether friends or flesh and blood.

      (Not trying to debate this, as it is off topic, just wanted to answer you but it also seemed like an odd question.)

  7. Dan says:

    Based on that description of events that sounds like a suicide to me. It’ll interesting what they can determine.

    1. KRB says:

      Yeah, sounds odd to me. I guess it’s possible that he was trying to get something off of the road, although he’d obviously be fully aware of the dangers of being in close proximity to motor vehicles.

    2. Roberto says:

      It sounds like suicide to me too.

      Plenty of people can do horrible things without even blinking and never look back. Usually we call these people “politicians” and/or “Lawyers”. Apparently, they lack some sort of guilt gene.

      But normal people often carry a heavy burden of guilt for past deeds and sometimes it just gets the better of them. Perhaps that’s what happened here. Sad if it’s true.

    3. Purple Helmet says:

      I really don’t think the tone of this article is appropriate. Every accident is a ‘mystery’ until the cause is known. This headline only invites uninformed speculation, which we seem to have already here.

      I hope the admins would remove this, JA’s blog is better than this, and we’ve seen above that family members will read this.

      For me, it sounds 100% a tragic accident, my condolences to the family.

      1. Me says:

        “This headline only invites uninformed speculation”

        “For me, it sounds 100% a tragic accident”

        Hello speculation…

      2. Kevin Green says:

        100% suicide in my mind. imagine being in that carreer/lifestyle and after all that yrs it being pretty much everything you know and love and have it removed from you through an act/moment of absolute stupidity of your own??….go figure! early hours of the morning dual carrageway incident happens outwith the vehicle and strangely enough involves a hgv maybe he never heard it coming as he had his i pod that he was still wearing from in the car whilst popping out to pick up the dead dog that he reversed back 800yrd on the dual carrageway illegaly incase somebody else hit it/swerved crashed……..go figure!!!

  8. Rich B says:

    what a week, bad times right now in f1 and motorsport with Nigel Vaulkhard passing too. rip to both

  9. Peter says:

    Horrible news. Rest in peace.

  10. aveli says:

    best wishes to his loved ones. he made significant contributions to our enjoyment of the sport, regardless.

  11. Malcolm Smethurst says:

    Condolences to his family, and if this is what it sounds like, sympathy also to the lorry driver.

  12. Peter Scandlyn says:

    That’s a sad passing for a man who saw the highs and lows of doing what he obviously loved.

  13. JB says:

    Not sure I should be terribly sad but I guess he is a human being. RIP!

  14. AuraF1 says:

    How sad. Clearly he had a moral failing in his past but he never deliberately set out to risk lives like Briatore who seems to have been forgiven while Stepney never had that. Sorry for his family if this is, as it sounds, a possible suicide.

    1. W Johnson says:

      It feels distasteful to be alluding to any moral failings at this time, especially as the full circumstances have not been made clear.

  15. Rod says:

    “‘Spygate’ protagonist”… was not necessary. We all know who Nigel Stepney was.
    Just saying.

    1. James Clayton says:

      Not everybody who reads this site today was watching F1 in 2007

      1. Andy says:

        So spygate wouldn’t help either, the name would’ve done.

      2. James Clayton says:

        “So spygate wouldn’t help either”

        no but the description following did.

        I don’t see how you can write an article on somebody without detailing certain facts of their life. Or would you have rather the author only wrote about his positive achievements? That would have come across as particularly bad journalism.

      3. Rod says:

        Nobody’s saying not to detail the important facts of his life. I only objected (slightly) to describing the guy with the worst of his career on the headline. It just seemed unnecessary to me.
        Pat fry’s infringement was a lot more egregious but we don’t see it being brought up when we read about him. Nor would we want to see it either, I suppose.

  16. Jodum5 says:

    According to the quote it sounds like suicide.

  17. Racecarmike says:

    So sad for his family and motor racing.

    R.I.P. Nigel

  18. Jason says:

    “For reasons yet to be established, the man appears to have entered the carriageway and was then in collision with an articulated goods vehicle. He was pronounced deceased at the scene.”

    What the heck is a carriageway?

    1. Doug says:

      A carriageway is a lane of the motorway. i.e. he left the hard shoulder & re-joined the motorway (typicaly 3 lanes in the U.K.).

    2. James M says:

      I assume you must not be from the UK. Here it’s a common term for a side of a motorway or duel-carriageway.

    3. Aljo says:

      British policespeak, as in dual carriageway.

    4. Mark Beardsley says:

      It is a stretch of road that a vehicle can move along without being constrained from moving left/right. Think of a multi-lane highway – a freeway in North America, a motorway in the UK. Typically, there is more than one lane and each of these lanes can be referred to as a carriageway.

      1. chris says:

        not quite, their are usually 2 carriageways on a motorway in the uk. One say north and the other south. Both are made of one or more lanes, but are separated in the middle by a small bit of non road ground. Often grassed with barriers

    5. Ambient Sheep says:

      In this case, it’s UK-speak for the main part of that side of the motorway (US: “freeway”), in other words a bunch of lanes all going in the same direction.

      Although a carriageway CAN mean just one lane, in most contexts, including this one, it means the whole bunch of them that are going in the same direction, on one side of the central reservation (US: “median”).

      While we’re at it, an “articulated goods vehicle” is what’s known in the USA as a “semi-trailer truck”, so Wikipedia tells me.

      So I think a US translation of the above would be:

      “For reasons yet to be established, the man appears to have walked off the shoulder onto the main part of the freeway and was then in collision with a semi.”

      RIP Nigel.

  19. Very sad rest in peace mate ….remember good tmies we head George Theodosiou allway will remember you god bless

  20. David in Sydney says:

    Sad news.

  21. kenneth chapman says:

    it is always tragic when someone loses their life for whatever reason and stepney is just one of them.

    i was rather looking forward to reading the proposed book that he was rumored to be preparing for publication. his latter times at ferrari were bizarre, to say the least. what was the white powder he had in the pocket of his overalls and what was actually put into the ferrari fuel tank?

    unless there are any drafts of his book left lying around we most likely will never know the answers to those troubling questions.

    he certainly led an interesting life.

  22. Scuderia McLaren says:

    Ferrari have the opportunity to be a bit classy here. To allude to his great work and part in the Scuderia’s greatest period of success. They can show grace here. If they choose they can show benevolence.

    I bet they won’t.

    There is little left in today’s F1 that suggests grace and integrity can be found. Especially in a red team I once admired.

  23. Very sorry to hear this news. Yes, his reputation was tarnished by Spygate, but as a lifelong ferrari fan I respected his genius. 56 is a young age to die. :-(

  24. Michael Spitale says:

    There is so much that has never been answered about Nigel. He was one of the top people in the pit lane. Then he did some bizarre stuff by any standard with pouring powder in Kimi’s car and telling team secrets. Now sadly, even his death follows that odd behavior with parking his van in such a high risk place. Hope his family pulls though….

  25. Andy Clark says:

    Sadly the incident that claimed the life of Nigel happened very close to my home. As a photo journalist i took several images, for local news, not realising who the victim was at that time, when news broke naming Nigel it was a shock. I had met him on two occasions and found him very pleasant to speak to.

    My thoughts go out to the family and friends at this distressing time.

  26. Andrewinwork says:

    “The evil that men do lives after them;
    The good is oft interred with their bones;”
    Julius Caesar Act 3 scene 2

    Rest in Peace

  27. I know says:

    Not just considering that Nigel Stepney leaves behind a family, I find the title inappropriately sensationalist and bordering disrespectful.

    This is not a “mystery” for us to speculate on, nor is there any evidence that links the accident to Mr. Stepney’s past activities.

    1. Wade Parmino says:

      I disagree. 7 years on from the 2007 scandal many people (including myself) had forgotten the name “Nigel Stepney” while still remember the “Spygate” affair. By drawing the connection between this name and “Spygate”, people will have a context for who this man is. Without the apparently ‘sensationalist’ title, I would not have known who he was when I read it.

      Also, it is very much a mystery as the circumstances under which he has died are rather unusual and appear to make very little sense. People don’t normally walk into oncoming traffic. No one anywhere has said that the accident has anything to do with the industrial espionage of 2007.

  28. Vlad says:

    Ferrari should have promoted him, he was a genius at what he did. RIP.

  29. AlexD says:

    Do you remember stories where he was saying that he was pursued by italian mafia?

    1. Wade Parmino says:

      Hogswollop. Bullhonky. Baloney. If he actually said this he was either a drama queen or chronically paranoid. Ferrari would never get involved with organised crime. Besides, justice was served; McLaren were disqualified and fined a gargantuan $100 million, handing the championship to Ferrari.

      If he was being pursued by anyone, they’d be coming from Woking. ;)

      1. Johnston says:

        Ferrari is owned controlled by longest running Freemasons in Italy.

  30. Laz says:

    James, could you please explain why this incident was “mysterious”? This type of accident happens all too often on motorways.

    The fact that Nigel Stepney was involved does not make it any different to other accidents of this nature, as you appear to imply.

    1. Wade Parmino says:

      People commonly walk into oncoming traffic?
      Not where I’m from.

  31. Steven Proud says:

    Why is it necessary to have “spygate” in the headline. Nigel Stepney was a great mechanic, and I’d hate to think that one negative action is what he is always left with! Why not have a headline of top former f1 mechanic killed?

    PLEASE change the headline: please emplore your employers at the BBC to change theirs.

    I can’t imagine how much stress always being related to 2007 in the media must place on an individual! Just think about that, please!

    1. UAN says:

      Unfortunately most people, especially reading the BBC, will not know who Stepney is. Their very first question, before reading the article, will be “Why should I care?” This is true of any article really.

      So when writing a headline, newspapers, etc. try to answer that question.

      For what it’s worth “‘Spygate’ Protagonist is a well crafted phrase. You could argue that the readers of this site are much more educated around F1 and F1 history, so there would be a higher level of interest to learn about this news as it relates to a key figure behind the scenes during the MSC era at Ferrari. Still, it is quick shorthand a glance.

      As others have done, I offer my condolences for his family during this painful time.

  32. Curro says:

    Sad news.

  33. cj says:

    2014 is turning out to be a depressing year for F1, so many bad things have happened. Truly shocked when I heard about Nigel, my thoughts are with his family and friends.

  34. Torchwood Five says:

    Sorry to hear about this.

    To see that smiling picture at the top, and know that the life was cut short only a few years later.

  35. TMAX says:

    Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne, Jean Todt, Paolo Martinelli, Stefano Domenicali, Neigel Stepheny and Michael Schumacher.

    What a dream team…….

  36. Lawrence says:

    It reads like suicide. Very sad. If anyone is feeling depressed talk to someone.
    I wonder if the reporting of Max Mosley’s unorthodox sexual activities was part of someone or some people exacting revenge on Mosley for his treatment of McLaren regarding the ‘spying’ scandal. I then wonder if the fall-out of that situation caused Mosley’s son to kill himself. If I am right then arguably that is two men whose suicides seem to be connected to that scandal.

    1. Mike84 says:

      Maybe he saw a stray puppy on the other side and was trying to save it from being run over. Maybe he heard a ticking sound and was concerned the van was about to blow up. Maybe he did talk to someone and they put him on drugs that made him think it was safe to walk across the traffic.

      If he was a loving father as they say, why would he kill himself and lose his family the life insurance? Doesn’t make sense, that.

      1. Lawrence says:

        If every person who killed themselves were thinking sensibly just before they killed themselves I doubt most would do it. I do not understand depression but I have seen its effect and sensible people end up doing stupid acts. I have known several people who had loving families, a lot to live for etc. and they killed themselves. I am happy to have a debate about the merits of the argument I make about Mosley’s son’s suicide and even on the reporting of Mosley’s unorthodox sexual activities as an act of revenge.

      2. kenneth chapman says:

        @ lawrence… it is interesting to consider just what happened in mosley’s expose.

        he always said that he would expose who did what but at the end of the day he never has. reading his comments at the time it appeared as though he was indirectly looking at mclaren or mclaren people.

        certainly motive was there but he provided no further details so one can only assume that he was either wrong or didn’t have the evidence.

        i was rather hopeful that nigel stepney would’ve finally given us some insight into the darker part of the F1 world where strange things have happened and probably still do.

      3. Mike84 says:

        Agreed with your comments re. Mosley, but that’s a whole other subject that could consume 100 million pages of blog comments if opened.

  37. Mike84 says:

    Not to forget Schu in the list of figures behind the run of success.

  38. kfzmeister says:

    There are so many reason’s why Schumacher has seven title. Sadly, a major one of them just passed.

  39. kenneth chapman says:

    i don’t understand how anyone could possibly deduce any relationship between the storyline and suicide?

    mysterious? is it not possible that he pulled off the carriageway to take a call on a mobile then drove back out into the mainstream traffic, misjudged his entry point and was accidently killed?

    anything could have caused a distraction that proved fatal making itjust another tragic traffic accident.

    1. James Allen says:

      Well he got out of the van and walked into the carriageway, perhaps you missed that chilling detail

      1. Mike84 says:

        Got to love ambiguous statements by people living off taxes. “Entered the carriageway”, thank you Officer, was that on foot or in the vehicle, is your IQ insufficient to see that’s significant, or are you deliberately keeping the truth shrouded in ambiguity?

      2. Robert says:

        Why, do you want to pay Oxford don’s wages to all of the thousands of police? Don’t expect letter-perfect abilities for those that we hire en masse, for skills that are in many cases not mainly developed in a classroom.

        And to be really blunt, “entered the carriageway” is ENTIRELY correct, as he was now on foot. Had he been in his vehicle, then properly he would have RE-JOINED the carriageway.

      3. kenneth chapman says:

        @ mike 84….exactement mon ami

  40. kenneth chapman says:

    @ james…well i certainly did miss that. when you said the ‘man entered the carriageway i automatically assumed that it was in the van’.

    if you had said,eg, that he walked onto the carriageway then i would’ve not made the mistake. so my mistake…mea culpa and all that.

    1. James Allen says:

      They were the words of the police officer, not me

      1. kenneth chapman says:

        @ james…true. just curious though. did you talk to the police or were you quoting from a press release? did you question what was said? it just seemed to me to be ambiguous that’s all.

        but anyway,bad news no matter what. hopefully there will be some explanations coming sooner or later that will counter any further speculation.

  41. phil says:

    His dad was a great goalkeeper for MUFC too….

  42. Sarah says:

    Just been reading all these comments and so sad for Cassie and the rest of the family. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I was in their shoes.

  43. Name (required) says:

    Condolences

  44. Tornillo Amarillo says:

    I do not understand… mystery, death, suicide, carryageway…

    Normally, when I do not understand the answer has to be with Money.

    100 millions?

  45. AR says:

    Worked with Nigel just couple of years back and thought he was a great guy and great sense of humour. Will always remember our last words… Rest in Peace Nigel.

    And show some sensitivity guys before wildly speculating – his daughter has posted on this thread so no doubt is reading these comments…

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