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3 May 2014, 05:33 | Updated: 3 May 2014, 06:05
A former Ferrari engineer who was sacked by the Formula One team after being accused of sabotage and leaking confidential data has been killed in a road accident, his family said tonight.
Ex-Ferrari technician Nigel Stepney was killed on the M20 near Ashford in Kent when he was struck by a lorry this morning. He was praised tonight by his family as "a wonderful partner and a hands-on dad".
The 56-year-old father found himself at the centre of a Formula One "spygate" scandal after being accused of sabotage and leaking confidential data to McLaren in 2007, and was sacked by the F1 team.
Mr Stepney's long-term partner, Ash Naidoo, tonight paid tribute to his passion, energy and devotion to his daughter.
Ms Naidoo, mother of the couple's seven-year-old daughter Sabine, said: "Nigel was wonderful to know - larger than life and full of energy. Motor sport was his passion topped only by his love and devotion to Sabine and I.
"Nigel was a wonderful partner and a hands-on dad who was besotted with his daughter who idolised him in return.
"They loved each other's company and Sabine was his shadow - delighting in helping him around the garage. Even if Nigel had to be away from home, he would phone her every day."
Mr Stepney's career in Formula One included working with world champions Ayrton Senna - who died during a Grand Prix 20 years ago yesterday - at Lotus and Michael Schumacher at Ferrari. Four years ago he joined Daventry-based JRM as racing team manager and technical director.
Speaking from her home in Essex, Ms Naidoo said: "I am so grateful for the love and support of our friends and Nigel's colleagues from the world of motor sport, especially JRM."
The Briton was fired by Ferrari after being accused of passing data to the McLaren team, and he never worked in F1 again.
The scandal broke after a technical dossier on Ferrari cars was found at the home of McLaren chief designer Mike Coughlan.
McLaren were handed a record fine and kicked out of the manufacturers' championship after being accused of using the leaked information.