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JUNE 22, 2007

The Dream Team is coming apart

There is drama going on in Italy at the moment - but no-one seems to be quite sure exactly what is happening. As we reported a few days ago a senior member of Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro has run into trouble with the team. Nigel Stepney, the team's technical coordinator, is now being investigated by the public prosecution service in Modena.

"Nigel Stepney is still an employee but we have brought an action against him," said a Ferrari spokesman. "It is not related to any event, it is related to his behaviour."

Ferrari is not saying what Stepney is supposed to have done but stories in Italy allege that there was an attempt to sabotage the Ferrari F1 cars before the Monaco Grand Prix. This sounds rather unlikely - and even more difficult to prove. There have also been allegations flying about that Stepney has been selling Ferrari equipment to other teams. At the same time Stepney was talking openly to other teams about his future employment and, we hear, was proposing to bring a group of top engineers from Ferrari with him. No-one knows who this group included but obviously this would have meant trouble at Maranello. When we last spoke to Stepney he alleged that Ferrari had people trailing him wherever he went. It was in this period that he had meetings with Honda F1.

Stepney started his F1 career at the age of 21, after cutting his teeth with Broadspeed in the European Touring Car Championship. He began his Grand Prix career with the Shadow F1 team and then worked at Team Lotus from 1980-1988 before moving to Benetton. During this time he worked with Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet and in 1992 he ran a Formula 3000 team for Piquet before being asked by former Benetton technical director John Barnard to join Ferrari.

He started working at Ferrari in January 1993 and played an important role, with Jean Todt and Ross Brawn, in getting the team organised enough to win a string of World Championships with Michael Schumacher. With Brawn having departed and Todt in his twilight years with the organisation, the wheels of the relationship have now come off in the biggest possible way. Stepney was not happy with the role given him by the team after Brawn's departure and over the winter he was taken off the race team.

For the moment, Stepney has gone to ground. He is rumoured to be in Asia.