Follow the money: Stepney to Aston Martin?
That’s the report in the British press, though it has not been confirmed by Nigel Stepney’s lawyers. Stepney is the former Ferrari director of development who has been fingered as the inside man at Ferrari in the McLaren spy scandal. He is currently under criminal investigation in Italy and Ferrari is suing him in England.
But Aston Martin is reportedly hiring him. Aston is now owned by the folks that own Prodrive, with backing from MiddleEast financial sources. Prodrive is expected to be entering Formula One.
So why would a team that is in the process of becoming a Formula One entrant hire Stepney?
It’s difficult to think of any rational reason, short of blackmail.
It is known that Stepney approached at least one Formula One team – Honda – before being fired from Ferrari. Though McLaren obviously used him as an insider to gain Ferrari confidential information, the one thing that has not been explained to date is what was in it for Stepney. McLaren’s motive is obvious. Stepney’s isn’t so obvious. To date, it’s been attributed to a desire to get revenge on an employer he disliked. But nothing about Stepney suggests he’s either that emotional or that devoid of comprehension of the value of what he was selling.
Stepney had to be getting paid. Jean Todt, Ferrari’s team manager, hinted at this when he commented recently that the penalty imposed on McLaren was actually quite light. The one thing that would make that penalty seem very light would be a trail of money from Ron Dennis to Nigel Stepney.
But if Stepney was selling out to McLaren, why should we assume he was only selling to one buyer?
Why not Prodrive, too?
A team just starting out in Formula One is at a disadvantage. Any inside information is likely to be helpful.
There is, to date, no evidence that Prodrive is implicated in anything.
But they sure haven’t explained why, the week after the decision against McLaren, a team about to enter Formula One would be hiring the man that triggered the scandal, a man likely to be barred from Formula One for life.