Spygate Stepney killed in crash
Nigel Stepney, one of the men at the heart of the F1 saga that was to become known as Spygate died in the early hours of this morning in an accident near Ashford on the M20. He was 56.
The infamous episode in the sport's history, which was to end with McLaren being excluded from the results of the 2007 world championship and fined $100m, first became public in June 2007 when Ferrari made a formal complaint against Stepney which subsequently resulted in a criminal investigation.
At first all that was known was that Ferrari claimed there had been "irregularities" at its factory together with talk of a "white powder" on the floor of its garage in Monaco at the time of the Grand Prix.
What appeared to be a situation involving sabotage took a very different twist however when Ferrari took action against "an engineer from the Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes team", subsequently revealed as Mike Coughlan.
In short, it was alleged Stepney was passing information to Coughlan and in time the sorry saga went all the way to the very top of the sport, resulting in the end of a number of careers.
Indeed, it almost led to Fernando Alonso being sacked by McLaren mid-season, a move vetoed by FIA President Max Mosley, when the Spaniard was alleged to have attempted to blackmail Ron Dennis at a time the two-time world champion was under intense pressure from his new teammate, Lewis Hamilton.
Effectively banned from Formula One, Stepney was sentenced to twenty months in prison and a fine, having been found guilty of "sabotage, industrial espionage, sporting fraud and attempted serious injury". The sentence was subsequently reduced after he entered a plea bargain and he never actually served any time in prison.
Beginning his F1 career with Shadow in 1977, Stepney followed Elio de Angelis to Lotus subsequently joining Benetton in the late 80s. He subsequently left Benetton along with Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and Michael Schumacher to join Jean Todt at Ferrari, thereby forming one of the most legendary 'supergroups' in the history of F1.
Stepney joined JRM Racing in 2010 and was the driving force behind the development of the Nissan GT-R GT car in the team's role as the Official Partner of Nissan Motorsports International (Nismo).
Under his stewardship, JRM won the 2011 FIA GT1 World Championship with Michael Krumm and Lucas Luhr - a success that was also rewarded with JRM receiving the coveted RAC Tourist Trophy.
A year later, he led JRM into the World Endurance Championship with an LMP1-specification Honda. The team finished the season third overall in the LMP1 category and also claimed sixth place at the Le Mans 24h.
In 2013, Stepney continued to mastermind the development of the Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 - a car that Nissan's GT Academy team, RJN, drove to both the PRO AM Drivers' and Teams' titles in the Blancpain Endurance Series.
Stepney had most recently plotted the continued development of the 2014-specification Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 and was scheduled to head up the JRM engineering team that will support the many customers using the car across the world this season.
James Rumsey, the owner of JRM, paid tribute to Stepney. He said: "From the moment Nigel joined JRM in 2010, he was a vitally important member of the team and brought a level of engineering experience to us that was unrivalled.
"A man that engineered Ayrton Senna at Lotus and helped to guide Michael Schumacher to five Formula One world championships with Ferrari was the perfect candidate to establish JRM as a serious team in circuit-based motorsport and the role that he played in achieving that standard will never be underestimated or forgotten.
"Nigel was an intense and fierce competitor and always strived for excellence in our racing. We certainly could not have achieved our level of success without his leadership and experience. Away from the track, he was a focused, driven and passionate member of the JRM Group, and a loving father to his family.
"The rest of the engineering and race team here at JRM learned an unimaginable amount from Nigel in the four short years he was with us and his death this morning has shocked everyone to the core. 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 his family and the many friends he leaves behind. Our prayers and thoughts are with Ash and Sabine."