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.”

Daniel Ricciardo to decide soon about moving from Red Bull to another F1 team

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LE CASTELLET, France (AP) Daniel Ricciardo says over the next six weeks he wants to decide between staying at Red Bull or joining another Formula One team for next year.

Ricciardo said on Thursday at the French Grand Prix, “It would be nice to go on the summer break knowing what I am doing.”

F1 is working its way toward its three-week break in August with speculation mounting that Mercedes, Ferrari, and McLaren are interested in luring Ricciardo away from Red Bull for 2019.

“I will be honest, everyone is talking about Mercedes and Ferrari as potential places for me to go, and I am aware that there will be interest from other teams,” he said.

The Australian driver has won seven races in his four-plus seasons with Red Bull. He is fourth in the standings behind leader Sebastian Vettel heading into the race at the Paul Ricard Circuit near Marseille.

Ricciardo’s stock has risen in recent months after his victories in Shanghai and Monaco. His Monaco win was particularly impressive because Ricciardo had to deploy some masterful defensive driving to protect his lead after losing an estimated 25 percent of his engine power.

Ricciardo said he had not directly spoken to rivals Ferrari and Mercedes, but he hedged when asked if his manager had.

“People talk, have coffees, I will leave that one open-ended,” he said with a laugh.

Ricciardo called the decision on whether to go or stay with Red Bull the biggest choice of his career following his decision to leave his native Australia and continue his racing career in Europe over a decade ago.

“For sure the priority is to get a car to win the world title because I really believe I can,” he said. “I am slightly careful because it is easy to think the grass is greener and maybe it is, but I also have it pretty good where I am.

“People do like a change but just to make change for the sake of making a change is not enough for me. I need to find some substance behind it to jump ship.”

Red Bull announced recently it would be ending its 12-year partnership with engine-maker Renault and switching to Honda motors for next year.

Ricciardo was hesitant to endorse or criticize the change, saying he was going to “try to keep putting the pieces together if it is a good move.”

But with the question of the engine manufacturer out of the way, Ricciardo said Red Bull would likely be looking to resolve its drivers’ lineup for next year.

“I haven’t been pushed yet, but I would say that there will be some movement in the next week,” he said. “Whether that is something that gets put down on paper (or not), for sure the discussions will start to ramp up in the next few days.”