Stepney update 7: he’s gonna sue Ferrari
The Ferrari industrial espionage soap opera entered a new phase on Friday, as Nigel Stepney returned to Italy from a Phillipine vacation and Stepney’s lawyer predicated a lawsuit against Ferrari.
Thursday, police searched Stepney’s house – apparently for a second time and, this time, apparently in an effort to collect e-mail records – and spent three hours questioning him. He was not, however, taken into custody. His counsel, Sonia Bartolini, was quoted by British newspaper The Guardian as stating that “it is probable we will legally challenge Ferrari’s firing of Nigel.”
As more details emerge, questions are being raised about Ferrari’s claims that this is a case of industrial espionage. It may have been something more along the line of competition.
Honda reported last week that it had been approached jointly by Stepney and Mike Coughlin, the McLaren chief engineer accused of having received from Stepney secret Ferrari documents – and had twice interviewed them about the possibility of coming to work for the Honda Formula One team. There are now indications that Stepney, Coughlin, and possibly others at both companies, were pooling data to invite job offers as a group from another Formula One employer. There were reports on Friday that two other Ferrari employees may have been involved.
McLaren has asserted that it did not use any of the allegedly purloined data. It has, it says, presented the FIA with technical and evolutionary proof showing how all of the features of their car were designed, thereby establishing that the process was not tainted by the Ferarri documents. If, in fact, Stepney and Coughlan were collecting information to use in attracting another employer, there would have been no reason for Coughlan to have shared the information with McLaren, so the team’s claim of innocence becomes much more credible. Indeed, if the current suggestions are accurate, McLaren is probably more concerned about whether it lost data.
The FIA has announced that it intends to complete its investigation of the matter within three weeks. It is difficult to see how that timetable can be met.