Nigel Stepney could be a character out of a cold war spy novel. First, he’s got the perfect British-sounding name, so you just know that there’s a KGB agent out there waiting to jab him in the leg with a ricin-capsule-tipped umbrella. In this case, however, it’s not the Russians out to get Stepney, it’s the Italians. Stepney, you see, was an F1 engineer for Ferrari before his termination in July of 2007. Prior to his departure, Ferrari alleged, Stepney had been taking home more than just coffee mugs and staplers. Stepney, it seems, had been spying for the McLaren F1 team.
Ferrari did what they could to crucify Stepney, including producing evidence that he put a “mysterious white powder” in the fuel tanks of the Ferrari F1 cars at the 2007 Monaco Grand Prix. Stepney denied the allegations, and denied that he provided confidential information on the Ferrari cars to other teams. In fact, Stepney said, Ferrari had given him current technical details of McLaren’s Formula One cars and strategies. The problem, it seemed, wasn’t only between Ferrari and McLaren, and the FIA launched a full investigation of Ferrari, McLaren, Honda and Renault.
In the end, McLaren was fined $100 million by the FIA, and they were excluded from the 2007 manufacturer’s championship. The FIA banned Stepney from all racing series under their umbrella, and did the same for Stepney’s counterpart at McLaren, Mike Coughlan. Ferrari continued with their legal proceedings against Stepney, and on Monday an Italian court found Stepney guilty of espionage.
Autoblog gives the details on Stepney’s sentencing: first, he was fined €600, or roughly $828 based on current exchange rates. He was also sentenced to 20 months in prison. However, because of how the Italian legal system works, all involved expect the sentence to be suspended with no actual jail time served. I’d assume that Stepney is also banned from driving Ferrari automobiles now and in the future, and can use the words “cannoli” or “chianti” only in a sentence.
Leave it to the FIA and to the Italian courts to show just how absurd things can get. These days, I’ll take all the amusement I can get from the news.