Former Ferrari mechanic Nigel Stepney dies in road traffic accident

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Former Ferrari mechanic Nigel Stepney has died in a road traffic accident in the UK this morning at the age of 56.

The British engineer entered Formula 1 in the late 1970s, and worked his way up the ranks at teams such as Shadow and Benetton before joining Ferrari at the end of the 1990s. He was an intrinsic part of the ‘dream team’ that consisted of Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and Jean Todt that won five straight drivers’ titles and six constructors’ crowns.

However, he fell from grace when he became embroiled in the espionage scandal that marred the 2007 Formula 1 season. Stepney was accused of sabotage during the Monaco Grand Prix that year when a white powder was found inside the Ferrari fuel tanks.

This then escalated when it was revealed he had been sharing sensitive information about the Ferrari F2007 car with McLaren’s Mike Coughlan. Ultimately, it resulted in McLaren being thrown out of the constructors’ championship that year and receiving a fine of $100m from the World Motor Sport Council.

Stepney was immediately fired, and never returned to Formula 1. However, he had most recently been working for JRM Racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship as team manager.

A statement from JRM Racing reads:

“JRM regrets to announce that Nigel Stepney, the company’s Racing Team Manager and Technical Director, was killed in a car accident this morning. He was 56 years old and leaves his loving partner and daughter, Ash and Sabine Stepney.”

Team owner James Rumsey said: “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 the many family and friends he leaves behind. Our prayers and thoughts are with Ash and Sabine.”

Nissan NISMO President Shoichi Miyatani also expressed his sincere sadness after working with Nigel for the past few years.

“It is with great sadness that we learn today of the loss of our friend, Nigel Stepney,” he said. “As the head of engineering at JRM, Nigel worked with NISMO since 2010. He led the JRM Racing team to the 2011 FIA GT1 World Driver’s Championship with the Nissan GT-R GT1 and most recently focused his efforts on the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, which won the 2013 Blancpain Endurance Series Pro-Am Championship in the hands of Nissan GT Academy team RJN.”

NBCSN analyst Steve Matchett tweeted out his sadness after hearing the news.

Very saddened by the news of the death of Nigel,” he said. “A terrible accident, a terrible loss. Without question I owe my entire F1 career to him. I was only thinking of Nigel yesterday, remembering the tears in his eyes when the pit lane personnel became aware of the death of Ayrton.

Curiously, he called me quite recently, out of the blue, a most unusual thing for him, just to ask how I was doing, to tell me he was happy.

Sometimes the world doesn’t make much sense.”

F1 drivers split on new ‘shield’ protection

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Formula One drivers are split over plans to test a new “shield” device to protect against flying debris.

The FIA will trial the transparent screen in the coming months for a potential introduction in 2018, as it pushes for greater head protection for drivers. Recent years have seen major head injuries in several motorsport series.

“I wouldn’t mind trying out the shield, seeing how is the visibility,” Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said on Thursday. “In terms of safety it would be a good step compared to what we have now.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was another supporter, saying “we’ve still got to see a bit more, but first impressions seem OK.”

The FIA previously seemed to favor a metal frame known as the “halo,” which was designed to stop a flying wheel hitting a driver’s head but was criticized by some drivers on aesthetic grounds.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat said on Thursday he was “quite against” the shield and the halo. “The way Formula One should look should remain the same,” he added. “We have enough protection.”

Romain Grosjean of Haas voiced concern the “next step” would be completely closed cockpits.

Recent years have seen several high-profile head injuries, including the deaths of Formula Two driver Henry Surtees in 2009 when he was hit by a loose wheel and IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, who was struck by debris, in 2015.

In Formula One, Brazilian driver Felipe Massa missed the second half of the 2009 season when a loose spring from another car hit his helmet, leaving him needing surgery.

Haas changes F1 brake supplier ahead of Russian Grand Prix

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Haas has switched from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes ahead of this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix in a bid to remedy its long-running braking issues in Formula 1.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation onto the F1 grid in 2016, with Romain Grosjean scoring all 29 of its points through its debut season.

Grosjean and then-teammate Esteban Gutierrez had their efforts spurned on a number of occasions by brake issues which continued to arise through pre-season testing in 2017 and the early races.

Haas pushed to remedy the issue by testing new Carbon Industrie brakes in the post-Bahrain Grand Prix test, with Grosjean and new teammate Kevin Magnussen conducting running.

The team duly decided to fit the new Carbon Industrie brakes for this weekend’s race in Russia, with both VF-17 cars to run with them from Friday onwards.

“To be fair to Brembo, the last update in brakes we had that arrived in China were much better. It took a long time to get them,” Grosjean explained.

“So then I was not screaming to change to Carbone Industrie but it was in the pipeline, so we tried them, and both drivers were pretty pleased with them. We felt like we had more control under braking.

“I’m very sensitive to my left pedal, so I really need to get good brakes to get good confidence and push the car to its maximum limit. So we are going to run them here.

“There is still a little bit of work we need to be doing around the mapping and finding the solution around those brakes but I think yeah, definitely it’s going to help me a little bit to find the last few hundredths.”

NHRA: Chad Head to substitute for Alexis DeJoria in Charlotte

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Alexis DeJoria will miss this weekend’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, with her Kalitta Motorsports team confirming DeJoria will need to tend to a family matter.

Chad Head, Kalitta Motorsports Director of Safety, will step into the Tequila Patrón Toyota Camry this weekend. No timetable was given for DeJoria’s return; after Charlotte this weekend, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues for its third consecutive race weekend next week in Atlanta.

This isn’t the first race DeJoria has had to miss recently, as she also was diagnosed with a concussion and missed the 2016 NHRA season finale in Pomona.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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Following his victory in Bahrain two weeks ago, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel arrived in Russia on Thursday targeting a third win of the year to extend his lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship.

Not since 2004 has a Ferrari driver made such a good start to a season, putting Vettel in contention for a fifth world title this year – although with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton hot on his tail, it will have to be a hard-earned success.

The fourth round of the year sees F1 head to the Olympic city of Sochi, which hosted the winter games back in 2014. The Sochi Autodrom played host to its first grand prix the same year, and is now a key part of Russia’s post-Olympic legacy.

Bringing you all of the latest news and interviews ahead of the Russian Grand Prix, Will Buxton brings you Paddock Pass.