Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ferrari has taken legal action

Ferrari has taken legal action against one of its long-serving senior staff, Nigel Stepney. The Italian squad filed a formal complaint earlier this week and Stepney is now under investigation by the public prosecution office in Modena, the nearest major town to Ferrari's factory in Maranello.The team has confirmed that it has launched court proceedings but hasrefused to divulge its grounds for doing so."Nigel Stepney is still an employee but we have brought an action against him," a Ferrari spokesman told Reuters."It is not related to any event; it is related to his behaviour."In the absence of any hard facts as to what Stepney is alleged to havedone, a variety of theories – conspiracy or otherwise – have surfacedin the Italian media. Sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport claims that at the centre of theprobe is an attempted sabotage. Citing a leak from the investigation, the paper says Ferrari has presented prosecutor Giuseppe Tibis with evidence that its cars were tampered with three days before the team left for Monte Carlo, when technicians discovered a suspicious white powder around the fuel vent.There is no suggestion that the team's performance in Monaco was compromised by the alleged interference because the cars werethoroughly checked before leaving Italy and the affected parts replaced.Else where there are suggestions that the complaint concerns industriale spionage. In April this year, two former Ferrari employees were convicted oftaking team secrets to Toyota and were given suspended prison sentences. It should be emphasised that no charges have been brought against Stepney at this stage and neither Ferrari nor the prosecutor has been prepared to disclose details of the investigation. Stepney has been unavailable for comment and is reported to be onholiday. A defence counsel has been appointed to represent him in his absence.The Englishman joined Ferrari from Benetton in 1992 and was part ofthe so-called 'dream team' that helped propel Michael Schumacher to his five successive world championships in 2000-04. He described himself as a 'glorified chief mechanic' and played a keyrole in coordinating the team's activities and ensuring its preparation and reliability were of a high standard. But tensions between him and Ferrari's senior management became public earlier this year when Stepney voiced his displeasure with the technical reshuffle that followed Ross Brawn's departure, which consigned him to a factory-based role.He let it be known that he was open to offers from other teams and has recently been linked with a possible move to Honda.

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