Stepney speaks out

Ferrari's Nigel Stepney has been giving his version of events in the ongoing scandal over espionage and sabotage in Maranello. Stepney has been accused of both by Ferrari.

"I had been in an area of the factory into which I was allowed and I was doing my job," Stepney says of the sabotage claims. "Something else happened at Ferrari. I started to get the blame for things, and began to feel framed."

And on the question of sabotage he says: "I have no idea at all how Mike Coughlan got them. No idea."

The accusations against him remain just that.

"I have been accused, but have not been charged with anything." he says. "There is just an investigation. I was officially sacked in May after 30 years in F1, and I am feeling like I am in the wilderness. I am now looking for another job in motorsport. I was aware there was a problem at Ferrari last September, when Ross (Brawn) announced his sabbatical. The structure was changing. I wanted a job similar to Ross’s which had evolved over 10 years. I still wanted to run the test and race teams and to report to Aldo Costa, the chief designer. He was the right person to report to, not Mario Almondo who was a Human Resources appointment. I thought having to report to him, and several others, was a backward step. I had previously only reported to Ross, and we had a great one-to-one relationship. He gave me a lot of support and guidance. There were six months of negotiations with Almondo and Jean Todt, who wanted me stay where I was for another year as operations manager of the test and race teams.

"I did an interview with Autosport at Christmas and after that I was in a bad position within the new structure. My relationship with Jean Todt had really broken down. But I tried to work within the system, until things became intolerable around mid-February. It was just very difficult having to explain systems to guys who were above me. It was very frustrating. In mid-February I told Jean Todt I did not want to travel any more. I wanted to sit back and consider the future. Ferrari took that badly, as 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."

And what about contacts with Mike Coughlan.

"At that stage - the end of February - I wasn’t looking anywhere else. But whenever I discussed anything with people in the factory in the course of doing my job, it got fed back to senior management," he explains. "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. I met up with Mike at the end of April – on the 28th in Port Ginesta in Spain. 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, but 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. You don’t just take one team’s structure and bang it into another team’ these things have to evolve, but 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 June 1 at Heathrow."

By then the legal actions had begun in Italy.

"On May 17 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. I’d filled in the relevant form but it was on my desk and I hadn’t handed it in, and wouldn’t be coming back until this was all sorted out. We haven’t spoken since.

"I have been followed, and so have my fiancee Ash with my year-old daughter Sabine. There have been high-speed car chases. 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. There was tracking gear on my car."

Stepney has now left Italy again.

The allegations about Coughland have naturally been linked to Nigel.

"I admit, it looks blatantly obvious," he says. "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 by to him by the drawing office hat 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. 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 he knew, it was in his head. I guess I know where the bodies have been buried for the last 10 years, there were a lot of controversies."

So how did Coughlan get the documents?

"I have no idea. I don’t even know for sure that he has had documents. Categorically, he didn’t get them from me. If he has some, then they came from another source. I have nothing to hide; I might as well have left the keys to my house with the caretaker so anyone from Ferrari could go in.

And how does he fell about all of this?

"Just a bit confused," he admits. "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."

Stepney says that he believes in the legal system in Italy but is still "anxious" about the possibility of going to prison.

And the circumstantial evidence: the meeting with Coughlan in Spain, the meeting with him with Honda, him being found in possession of Ferrari documents?

"I would be a bit stupid to go anywhere if I had such material, wouldn’t I?" Stepney says. "I put a lot of the systems and working practises 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."

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