Stepney speaks out

08/07/2007
NEWS STORY

Speaking to British journalists, Nigel Stepney has denied sabotage, and claims that he intends suing his former employers Ferrari, accusing them of a dirty tricks campaign.

"I've been with Ferrari for 14 years," the Englishman told Jane Nottage of The Sunday Times. "There's been a lot of controversy over the years. I obviously know where the bodies are buried."

He claims that he, his fiancee Ash and their baby daughter had to flee their home after being shadowed.

"There have been high-speed car chases," he told Maurice Hamilton of The Guardian. "'We've been followed by more than one car, with Italian plates, and when we cornered one of them last Thursday evening the men in it refused to speak. I don't believe they were journalists. Ash has been stalked at the house. There was tracking gear on my car. Someone was going to get hurt. I'd no option but to get out of Italy.'

Previously, the Englishman had been accused of sabotage - with some sections of the media claiming that he had attempted to interfere with the cars of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa before the Monaco Grand Prix - then, earlier this week, Ferrari sacked him, claiming that he had passed information to a member of a rival team.

"I had been in the area of the factory where the so-called incident took place," he said, "as it is somewhere I had access to, but it is not true I did anything."

Referring to claims that (McLaren chief designer) had been found in possession of up to 500 Ferrari documents, Stepney said: "I have no idea how he got them, no idea at all.

"We met at the end of April in Spain, just a catch-up between old friends," he added, revealing that the meeting had been witnessed by Spyker Technical Director Mike Gascoyne.

"The first sign of a potential problem came in September last year when Ross Brawn said he would be taking a sabbatical and the technical management structure would be changing," said Stepney, according to Hamilton.

The Englishman discussed the situation with team boss Jean Todt, and subsequently he was given responsibility for the race and the test teams.

"I wanted to report to Aldo Costa, the head of chassis design," said Stepney. "He was the right person to respond to. I didn't want to respond to Mario Almondo, the new technical director," he added, referring to the man who had been promoted from Human Resources, and who, in Stepney's eyes, did not possess the necessary technical knowledge.

"By mid-February, the relationship had started to break down," he admitted. "I couldn't work with them. I missed the one-to-one relationship with Ross. He knew exactly what I could do; I always had 100 per cent support from Ross. Now I had four or five people to report to. It was very frustrating.

"I told Jean Todt I didn't want to travel any more. I wanted to sit back and consider the future. Ferrari took that badly. My role became head of performance development based at the factory. I began to feel like I was some sort of traitor, just because I no longer wanted to travel.

"At that stage, I wasn't looking anywhere else," he continues. "But whenever I discussed anything with people in the factory in the course of doing my job, it got fed back to senior management. People became scared to talk to me. I was put in a position where it was difficult to do my job. By the end of March the situation was unbearable. I started to look at other teams, and approached Nick Fry."

He then refers to a meeting with McLaren Chief Designer Mike Coughlan, which took place on April 28 in Port Ginesta, Spain.

"I met up with Mike. I'd had one meeting with Nick and didn't want to go into a second one alone. At first, Mike wasn't looking at a move although he was unhappy with the McLaren management. Then three or four people at Ferrari indicated to me, after reading stories of my approach to Honda, that they would be interested in joining a technical group to go to another team. They wanted to follow us to go into a structure in which they felt comfortable.

"I categorically deny that any technical information passed between Mike and I during that meeting, or at any time. We mainly discussed the sort of infrastructure and tools we would need to get the job done in another team. I saw the future as helping to put such a structure into place at Honda.

Referring to some of the recent speculation that he was offering a tailor-made technical 'dream team' complete with inside info on at least one of the leading cars, Stepney said: "You don't just take one team's structure and bang it into another team. "These things have to evolve. Mike and I agreed to pool our expertise and talked about what we could bring to a team. Then we met Nick Fry together on 1 June at Heathrow.

"On 17 May, when there were legal moves against me by Ferrari, people were taken from the factory to the Carabinieri headquarters to be interviewed, but no charges were made against anyone. My house in Serramazzoni has been raided twice.

"After the thing with the Carabinieri, I called Jean Todt to say I was going on holiday to the Philippines and wouldn't be coming back until this was all sorted out. We haven't spoken since." The Englishman admits that he had filled in the relevant form had left it on his desk having failed to follow procedure and hand it in.

It was on last Tuesday (July 3), after being contacted by an un-named British journalist that Stepney heard about the Coughlan development.

"I admit it looks blatantly obvious," said Stepney. "But something is happening inside Ferrari. I was accused by Mario Almondo of taking some drawings. I had them in my possession legitimately because I needed them for work on the simulator, but it was reported to him by the drawing office that I had them. I got the papers and threw them on Almondo's desk. The next day they were back on mine!

"I categorically deny that I copied them, or that I sent them to Mike Coughlan. I knew I was being watched all the time at the factory and that everything I did or said was being reported back and that people knew whenever I accessed files on the computer. I have no idea how anything came into Mike's possession. I don't even know for sure that he has had documents. Do you know for sure? Categorically, he didn't get them from me. If he has some, then they came from another source

"I would be a bit stupid to go anywhere if I had such material, wouldn't I?" he continued. "I put a lot of the systems and working practices in place at Ferrari, relating to the operations of the test and race teams and the preparation of the cars, information I am told was supposed to be in the documents. I had worked on them with Ross and Aldo Costa. So if I already had all that material in my head, why would I need it all again? I am seriously doubtful that Mike has these documents.

"I have nothing to hide," he insists. "I might as well have left the keys to my house with the caretaker so anyone from Ferrari could go in. Ferrari is terrified that what I have in my mind is valuable. But do you think Nicolas Tombasis came to Ferrari from McLaren without something in his mind? The new Ferrari front end aero came from McLaren, because it was in his head.

"I'm just a bit confused. I was never a yes man and as soon as I went against the system at Ferrari, I got squeezed. Ferrari is unique in Italy; it's a religion. If you go against it, it's like going against the Vatican. I'm anxious, naturally, but I haven't done anything wrong and I believe in the legal system in Italy."

As we have said before, the less we know. However it must be remembered, as Stepney reminds us, he has not yet been charged with anything.

"I have been accused, but have not been charged with anything." says the Englishman. "There is just an investigation.

"I was officially sacked in May after 30 years in F1," he adds, "and I am feeling like I am in the wilderness. I am now looking for another job in motorsport."

Fact is, unless and until he is fully cleared it is unlikely that anyone will touch him, or Coughlan, with a bargepole.

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Published: 08/07/2007
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