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Not an auspicious start for Mike Coughlan at Williams
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Posted By: James Allen  |  16 Jul 2011   |  7:37 pm GMT  |  39 comments

Williams’ hiring of the controversial engineer Mike Coughlan has not got off to the best of starts, with Autosport reporting that his former employer NASCAR team Michael Waltrip Racing, is suing Coughlan for breach of contract and Williams for interference.

This is interesting because Adam Parr spoke at the Montreal FOTA Fans Forum about having visited Waltrip’s shop en route to Canada and having been shown around. It sounded quite a cordial visit, so one wonders to what extent this action has come out of the blue.

Coughlan had a contract with Waltrip, which was due to run from October 2010 to November 2012.

Coughlan has recently started work at Grove alongside Williams outgoing technical technical director Sam Michael, who is focussed on developing the 2011 car. It has improved in pace in recent races, with Pastor Maldonado qualifying an impressive seventh at Silverstone. Sadly for them the race results have not been forthcoming and Williams trails a long way behind Toro Rosso and Force India in the constructors’ championship with just four points and ninth in the standings.

Recently the team announced that it was adding Jason Sommerville as chief aerodynamicist and Mark Gillan as head of track engineering to work alongside Coughlan in future.

Coughlan is a controversial figure in F1 due to his central involvement in the McLaren/Ferrari spying scandal in 2007, which led to McLaren being fined a record $100 million.

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39 Comments
  1. “This is interesting because Adam Parr spoke at the Montreal FOTA Fans Forum about having visited Waltrip’s shop en route to Canada and having been shown around. It sounded quite a cordial visit, so one wonders to what extent this action has come out of the blue.”

    Either that, or he was there to attempt to persuade Waltrip to not take legal action, and then flowered his words in Montreal…

    Just a guess. ;-)

  2. zxzxz says:

    it’s strange to me how accepting the sport has been of william’s fall from grace. for about 20 years they were competitive at the top of the sport, but there doesn’t seem to be any fire at all, from the media or the public, over losing them to the middle of the pack. it’s been a very quiet stumble.

    1. Nico says:

      With it being 14 years since a championship and 6 since a win, everyone is well used to it by now.

    2. Phil C says:

      There are some similarities with the original Team Lotus here. A team used to winning championships. A team used to winning championships in the 60s and 70s fell in the 80′s but had a slight resurgance (thanks to Senna in part), and then the late 80′s and early 90′s saw them fall far from the grage they once had.

      Williams had success in the 80s and 90s but fell behind, a resurgance in the early 00s but since then they’ve fallen into the clutches of midfield.

      I don’t remember much outrage when Lotus died, most likely because its early success had been forgotten, and its roots at the time as a midfield and backmarker had seeded into the minds of fans too young to remember, while the older generation may have thought it was time to end what had once been a great story.

      I doubt Williams will go bust, and I admire frank and Patrick for sticking with it rather than selling up when entries became valuable. But I don’t see them returning to their winning ways.

      As for Mike Coughlan, he served his sentence, and it takes some guts to be the team to employ him.

  3. fullblownseducer says:

    Weird, but the yanks are partial to a bit of legal argy-bargy now and again, so it’s to be expected I suppose.

    Off topic, but, James, with the Eurozone about to melt down in a very big way, any chance of a blog on how the crisis will likely affect the teams/the sport? What kind of noises are the teams making?

    1. James Allen says:

      Will do thanks for the suggestion

      1. paul says:

        and if you want any info to follow on my prediction in your blog the end of last year that there will be a financial traincrash come July….I think I posted back on your blog about Williams signing Maldonado

        I might have sounded a bit of a doom and gloom loon back then James,I think i was a month or so off on my prediction, but it will be a messy business either way.

    2. Matthew says:

      It’s an interesting question.

      This is just an idea but my first thoughts are that it won’t have a huge effect.

      I would think that such is the nature of investment in F1 that those countries/corps with significant interests will be in commercial sectors or geographic regions that are pretty resistant to the slump.

      The Euro zone has been teetering for a while now and although my knowledge of the F1 investors’ balance sheets isn’t great, I’d presume you don’t even consider going in if solvency is close to marginal.

      Maybe some effect buy not dramatic and almost certainly replaceable from developing countries e.g. Brazil if the marketing is right.

      1. rpaco (other rpaco) says:

        Some teams do seem to exist on a shoestring financially and it probably has a fair few knots in it too.

        But big teams with money in the bank very probably dabble in Forex, in fact it is stupid not to. I would guess that the Swissy is the currency of the future, with the Dollar effectively devalued by the QE1 and QE2 and now musings of QE3 (QE = quantative easing which is just printing more money to pay the bills with, (and also lending it to banks to buy bonds with) unfortunately this devalues the currency in relation to other outside currencies and in particular to any commodity which is priced in dollars eg oil, gold etc Thus gold will head for $2000/oz later this year) The Euro has several more near insolvencies to go yet, and Germany is getting uptight about being the main contributor in bailing out of countries with less effective fiscal control. The GBP (Pound) is going to take about 10-15 years to recover from the spend more borrow more policy of the last government. The GBP, USD, and EUR have all dropped 20% against the CHF (Swissy) since April this year. So I would be asking Bernie for my points for prizes money in CHF (Swiss Francs)

      2. unoc12 says:

        Or Aussie dollars….

        AU$ = US$0.70 a couple of years ago
        AU$ = US$1.08 currently

        154% = 54% increase…. hmm tasty

      3. David Turnedge says:

        Well, just because all looks shiny from the outside… remember Honda, BMW and Toyota pulling out at short notice… even big business can suffer economically. Methinks only something like Red Bull would continue with a positive cash flow mid recession.

    3. unoc12 says:

      If I recall it was only earlier this year Ford put a case foward to sue Ferrari saying in short the Ferrari F150 F1 car (for 150 years of Italian Unification) would damage teh brand of their Ford F150 pickup truck.

      Also the American legal system is full of holes and political politicians so it’s not hard to imagine why your correct, in that Americians will happily put together a case over anything and everything that could be or related or really anything containing any sort of link to anything.

    4. Kenny says:

      The pot calls the kettle black.

    5. Rich C says:

      Whats weird to *me is how many ppl think a contract is not really a contract and doesn’t actually mean what it says so you can just bail out any old time it suits you.

      1. iceman says:

        You can bail out any old time it suits you, if you’re prepared to compensate the other party with whatever it costs to put them back in the position they would have been if you’d completed the contract.
        A lot of unnecessary distress is caused by the perception of contracts as matters of personal honour, instead of impersonal business agreements.

      2. rpaco (other rpaco) says:

        According to the legal document Mike was the leading light, did everything, provided all the knowledge and even the light for the factory which shone from his behind. He was absolutely fundamentally necessary to the very existence of MWR they might as well all commit suicide if he ever even considered leaving.
        They were looking for $75,000 plus three times that in punitive damages. oh and a jury trial in North Carolina.
        This fabled document claims that MWR is world famous in NASCAR while Williams is an F1 assembler.
        Since the world of NASCAR reaches not to far from the USA they might find that no one has heard of them outside NASCAR, however with a Carolina Judge and jury, the only question is how much Williams will end up paying.

  4. jez says:

    Its very sad what has happend to one of the most sucessful F1 teams. Still they have not done a very good job of running a race team for at least ten years. I think the rot has truly set in, and a change of owners (with deep pockets and a strong desire to win) is the only way to put them back at the top.

  5. Rob says:

    Bah… Looks like it’s for $75K…. I doubt you could talk to an F1 level suite for that, so just cut em a cheque and be done with it.

    1. garoidb says:

      It looks to me as if the documents state that it is for a value exceeding $75,000. It could be a much higher amount.

      Employment contracts usually have notice periods, and anyway, there is no point in having someone work in a critical role who is there under sufferance.

      I wonder if this analogous to a footballer’s transfer situation where fees can be astronomical? Anyway, the contract had only 18 months to run.

      1. rpaco (other rpaco) says:

        Indeed the whole thing rests upon the exact wording of Mike’s contract with MWR. All or at mleast most UK contracts have a mutual consent termination clause or a notice period on one or both sides. Otherwise they may be “Unfair” contracts and not enforceable. However we are not in the UK, but the fantasy land of US legal, where anything can happen and mostly does! (At vast cost)

  6. Rdw says:

    I have a not entirely unrelated question….

    Is Mike Coughlan pronounced Kog-lan or Koff-lan? I’ve heard tv presenters use both.

    1. Fnordsrus says:

      It is Kofflan. Perhaps you have been listening to some phonetic pronunciations.

      1. Quercus says:

        The way Mike Coughlan pronounces his own name is correct.

        However, in the absence of hearing him pronounce it, the ‘proper’ way to pronounce seeing as it comes from the gaelic is ‘cockhlan’ — with the ‘h’ in the middle pronounced in a way that can’t be written in English. The best way I can describe it is to speak it in the back of the throat.

      2. garoidb says:

        Yes, this is the way it would be pronounced in Ireland.

  7. RNF says:

    The sun doesn’t rise and fall on F1, a contract is a contract and has reprocussions. If you don’t like the wording of a contract, or feel you could not fulfill the obligations outlined in such contract, the answer is simple – don’t sign it. Otherwise, suck it up and be an adult and fulfill the obligations outlined in the contract.

    No big surprise Coughlan is caught up in more trouble.

    1. Johnny Leone says:

      Agreed it is no big surprise about Coughlan getting into trouble again, somehow.

  8. Werewolf says:

    Oh dear! Whatevever, any contract can be broken, either with agreement, sufficient money or insufficient challenge. Even fixed term contracts can (in Europe) be legally ended by the employee with the correct notice.

    I know too little about NASCAR to comment on MWR but, given the pre-existing situation with Coughlan, they could be chancing their arm or seeking to vent irritation. Either way, the sums being mentioned seem pretty paltry, easily affordable for Williams and consequently easy for MWR to then claim the high ground if an out-of-court settlement is offered.

    Alternatively, Coughlan could have shown himself untrustworthy to another employer, in which case Williams need to be wary in much the same way as the man who steals another’s wife!

    Doubtless, McLaren and Ferrari will have a quiet chuckle!

  9. Adrian Newey Jnr says:

    James – how do the new team rate in the paddock? In your opinion are these changes behind the scenes likely to see an improvement? Or are these simply desperate measures by picking up whomever was available to be seen to be making changes?

  10. jmv says:

    i think everyone who is employed with a contract knows the ins and outs of their “resignation notice terms”… but this sounds amateurish… either coughlan mis informed williams that he could leave earlier.. and waltrip didnt knew the ins and outs of the exact contract with MC, until HR notified him…

    but you would certainly expect MC to know the exact resignation notice giving term.

    if williams are in trouble because of this… then they need to have a very serious discussion with MC.

    walking the fine line of being within or risking being outside of the rules is a perfect personal trait to be working in F1… but only when i comes to car design vs. FIA rules.

  11. Matt W says:

    I think the problem Williams have is that they have stayed as 100% independant for too long. It is admirable that they want to go it alone but it hasn’t been a success which is the bottom line for a team with Williams history. The best thing they could have done would have been to sign a deal with BMW similar to what Mclaren had with Merc. It probably would have kept BMW in the sport, and would have kept continuity at Williams when they were still competitive (nearly winning the 2003 title).

    I hope the Renault deal brings them back to the front but they need to be more ambitious with their driver line up.

  12. It seems like contracts these days aren’t woth the paper they arew written on!Its all about compensation

  13. Rohan says:

    Matt W, that would have been great except for the fact that BMW didn’t want a similar deal to that between Mercedes and Mclaren. BMW wanted a deal whereby they would end up with ultimate control of Williams, which, understandably, Williams weren’t willing to do.

  14. neil says:

    If Coughlan walked out on a contract then the issue is with Coughlan not Williams, or is there more to this?

  15. CJM says:

    Have any of the finger-pointers (other than those parties actively involved in the dispute) actually seen the contract that has apparently been breached?

    Thought not.

    Speculation, here, is pointless.

  16. Eddystone says:

    CJM: It’s just possible that the MWR lawyers are familiar with the terms of the lawsuit. It seems obvious that if Coughlan had a clear out, there would be no lawsuit to begin with. MWR would have to be fools sit by and do nothing under these circumstances. My personal speculation is that Coughlan probably in clear violation of the terms of the contract and is betting that Williams is desperate enough come up with the damages and settle the suit. What do you think the new Williams stockholders (or prospective investors) will think about what Frank is doing with their money?

  17. David Ryan says:

    Has to be said that MWR trying to establish the court’s jurisdiction over Williams based on its sponsorship by AT&T does smack slightly of desperation, but I digress. It’s certainly not the start either Williams or Coughlan would have wanted and it could potentially damage both quite a bit, but until more information comes out it’s difficult to make any real comment.

  18. Tyler says:

    Coughlan involved in something involving legalities… shocker.

  19. Chris D says:

    I’m surprised he managed to get an H1B visa, or any visa. I had an L2 and that was tricky enough, but there’s a really tight cap on H1Bs. Did he not get prosecuted for Spygate?

    1. Chris D says:

      Meant L1B not L2! Just looked and the H1B cap was 60,000 visas in 2010 and the cap was reached by december 2009.

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