London - Nigel Stepney, the former Ferrari mechanic who was at the centre of the 'spygate' scandal that rocked Formula One in 2007, has died aged 56 in a road traffic accident in Kent, south-east England, it was announced Friday.
A statement from Kent Police posted on the Autosport website said: “A silver VW caddy van, driven by a 56-year-old man from the Essex area, had stopped on the hard shoulder of the M20 London-bound carriageway at Ashford.
“For reasons yet to be established, the man appears to have entered the carriageway and was then in collision with an articulated goods vehicle. He was pronounced deceased at the scene.”
Stepney, who'd worked closely with multiple world champion Michael Schumacher at Ferrari, effectively becoming the German's personal engineer, was sentenced in Italy to 20 months in prison after being found guilty of sabotage, industrial espionage and sporting fraud.
He'd leaked nearly 800 pages of confidential Ferrari information from the Italian giants to British-based Formula One rivals McLaren ahead of the 2007 season.
Stepney did not serve the sentence, but never worked in Formula 1 again.
Prior to 'Spygate', Stepney had enjoyed a lengthy career in Formula One that had encompassed spells with the Shadow, Lotus, Benetton and Ferrari teams.
After his exit from Formula One, the British-born Stepney worked most recently in sportscars, joining the JRM team in Daventry, central England, in 2010.
He helped JRM win the 2011 FIA GT1 World Championship and a year later guided the team into the World Endurance Championship, where they finished third overall in the LMP1 category and also claimed sixth place at the Le Mans 24 hours race.
In a statement, JRM owner James Rumsey paid tribute to Stepney by saying: “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.”