Nigel Stepney made his first steps in motor racing when he joined touring car outfits Broadspeeds as an apprentice at the age of 17. He worked on their Triumph Dolomite Sprints, but as the team fell into decline he joined the Shadow F1 team.
There he established a rapport with race driver Elio de Angelis and moved to Lotus with the driver in 1980, becoming his number one mechanic. When de Angelis left at the end of 1986, Stepney moved on Ayrton Senna’s car.
Senna left Lotus at the end of 1987 and Stepney also departed, for Benetton, the following year. He worked as chief mechanic alongside Barnard until 1991 when Stepney joined Nelson Piquet’s ill-fated Formula 3000 team.
Two years later he took up the chance to rejoin Barnard, now at Ferrari, again as chief mechanic. This was Barnard’s second tenure at Ferrari and when he moved on in 1996, Stepney remained to work with fellow ex-Benetton man Ross Brawn.
With Michael Schumacher driving, victories came thick and fast – and from 2000 championships followed.
By 2005 Stepney had risen to the role of team co-ordinator but he still jokingly dismissed this as being “a glorified chief mechanic.” He was widely credited for his diligent approach that gave Ferrari a reliability record that was the envy of the pit lane.
But by 2006 the Ferrari dream team was coming apart. Schumacher retired, engine designer Paolo Martinelli left, and Brawn went on sabbatical. After the season Stepney remarked to Autosport magazine that he was hankering for change:
“I am looking at spending time away from Ferrari. I’m not currently happy with the situation within the team – I really want to move forward with my career and that’s something that’s not happening right now. Ideally I’d like to move to a new environment here within Ferrari – but if an opportunity arose with another team, I would definitely consider it.”
He remained with the team into the 2007 season but in June he was suspended pending an investigation into alleged wrongdoing. He was eventually found to have supplied a document of several hundreds pages detailing the inner workings of Ferrari’s F1 car to their rivals McLaren, and was thrown out of the sport.
Stepney later returned to racing with sports car team JRM in the GT1 series and World Endurance Championship. However he was killed in a road accident on the morning of May 2nd 2014, aged 56.
Image © Ferrari/Ercole Colombo