Nigel Stepney - the former Benetton, Lotus and Ferrari mechanic - has died in a road traffic accident at the age of 56.

Stepney was killed in Kent the early hours of Friday morning. The news was confirmed by JRM, with Stepney having been the team's racing team manager and technical director. He left F1 in 2007 after being involved in the 'Spygate' scandal between Ferrari and McLaren, having move to Maranello in the 1990s along with Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne.

JRM owner James Rumsey paid tribute to Stepney in a statement.

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"From the moment Nigel joined JRM in 2010, he was a vitally important member of the team and brought a level of engineering experience to us that was unrivalled," Rumsey said.

"A man that engineered Ayrton Senna at Lotus and helped to guide Michael Schumacher to five Formula One world championships with Ferrari was the perfect candidate to establish JRM as a serious team in circuit-based motorsport and the role that he played in achieving that standard will never be underestimated or forgotten.

"Nigel was an intense and fierce competitor and always strived for excellence in our racing. We certainly could not have achieved our level of success without his leadership and experience. Away from the track, he was a focused, driven and passionate member of the JRM Group, and a loving father to his family.

"The rest of the engineering and race team here at JRM learned an unimaginable amount from Nigel in the four short years he was with us and his death this morning has shocked everyone to the core. 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 his family and the many friends he leaves behind. Our prayers and thoughts are with [his wife] Ash and [daughter] Sabine."

Kent Police has issued an appeal for more information to determine the circumstances surrounding the accident. The appeal on the Kent Police website read: "A 56 year-old man has died following a collision between a pedestrian and a lorry on the Londonbound M20.

"Kent Police was called to an area between junctions 10 and nine at 1:28am on 2 May. A silver van had stopped on the hard shoulder of the Londonbound carriageway and the driver had got out of his vehicle and left it unattended. The man was then in collision with a lorry."

PC Glen Braidwood of Kent Police's Serious Collision Investigation Unit explained: "A silver VW caddy van, driven by a 56 year-old man from the Essex area, had stopped on the hard shoulder of the M20 Londonbound carriageway at Ashford. For reasons yet to be established, the man appears to have entered the carriageway and was then in collision with an articulated goods vehicle. He was pronounced deceased at the scene."

Crash.net would like to send its sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Nigel.