After much speculation, Nigel Stepney has been confirmed by Ferrari as the source of the suspected leak of technical secrets to arch rival McLaren.

The Briton, who was dismissed by the Scuderia on Tuesday following an internal and police investigation, was officially named in a statement issued by Ferrari later the same day. The announcement also directly linked the former technical manager to the appearance of technical information that was found in the hands of a McLaren engineer.

"Ferrari announces it has recently presented a case against Nigel Stepney and an engineer from the Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes team with the Modena Tribunal, concerning the theft of technical information," a brief communiqu? from the Maranello team confirmed, "Furthermore, legal action has been instigated in England and a search warrant has been issued concerning the engineer. This produced a positive outcome. Ferrari reserves the right to consider all implications, be they criminal, civil or of any other nature, according to the applicable laws."

Suspicions were raised when McLaren announced that it was to suspend a 'senior employee' after a police search found the alleged information at his home. Although the statement did not name either the employee or link Stepney to the row, the timing of actions in both Britain and Italy caused much talk linking the two.

"McLaren became aware, on 3 July, that a senior member of its technical organisation was the subject of a Ferrari investigation regarding the receipt of technical information," the statement from Woking read, "The team has learnt that this individual had personally received a package of technical information from a Ferrari employee at the end of April. Whilst McLaren has no involvement in the matter and condemns such actions, it will fully co-operate with any investigation."

Stepney has yet to respond to the accusations, having been away on holiday with his family. However, he responded to earlier reports that he was to be investigated over alleged sabotage attempts by claiming that Ferrari was 'waging a dirty tricks campaign' against him. The investigation was prompted, according to Ferrari sources, by the discovery of white powder in the fuel tanks of both its race cars in the build-up to the Monaco Grand Prix, although this line of enquiry has since taken a backseat to the leak of information.

Stepney played an unsung role in the 'dream team' that took Michael Schumacher to five straight world titles with Ferrari, but has felt alienated since fellow Briton Ross Brawn took a sabbatical in 2007. Apparently unhappy at the direction Ferrari is taking since the technical director's 'departure', Stepney was removed from his at-track role and handed a factory-based technical development position - something he was unhappy with. He has made no secret of the fact that he would be open to offers from rival teams, with Honda among those linked to his services.

The FIA has also since confirmed that it would be following the situation closely, but has not suggested that it would take any action.

Ferrari was involved in the last case of leaked technical secrets, when information was passed to the then new Toyota team. Two employees have since been handed prison sentences for their part in the case.

 

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