F1 Winter Break
Williams makes controversial appointment as Michael resigns
Williams makes controversial appointment as Michael resigns
Posted By: James Allen  |  03 May 2011   |  1:43 pm GMT  |  124 comments

Williams has announced details of the long expected changes to its technical department, with the controversial appointment as chief engineer of Mike Coughlan, who was centrally involved in the McLaren/Ferrari Spygate scandal of 2007. Williams chairman Adam Parr said that the team needs “a fresh approach”.

Sam Michael has resigned after 11 years as Technical Director and will leave the team at the end of the season. His short term role will be to oversee development of the 2011 car to unlock its potential, which has not been seen to date. The team will evaluate Coughlan’s suitability to become Technical Director during the year.

Also falling on his sword after a start to the season which Frank Williams described as “not at the level that it needs to be” is Jon Tomlinson, who was chief aerodynamicist.

Meanwhile Parr has indicated that Patrick Head will retire at some point this year.

Michael resigned a few weeks ago and is likely to find a role elsewhere in the pit lane as his skills are well known, but it is the appointment of Coughlan which is remarkable and controversial.

His role in the scandal whereby Ferrari technical secrets were passed to McLaren ahead of the 2007 season came to light when his wife took a dossier of Ferrari technical information to a copy shop in Woking and the manager alerted Ferrari. It led to McLaren receiving a record $100 million fine while Coughlan and his co-conspirator Nigel Stepney at Ferrari were banned from F1 for 2 years.

Coughlan popped up again at the start of last season with the abortive Stefan GP team, which tried to get an entry along with other new teams using Toyota chassis.

Ferrari have no official reaction to the news. Ferrari’s reaction at the time to the reappearance of Coughlan at Stefan GP was, in private, one of fury and they will not be overjoyed to see him reappear now. However it would have been far worse for them if Stepney had reappeared.

Frank Williams says, “He (Coughlan) left Formula One in 2007 because of conduct which he acknowledges was wrong and which he profoundly regrets. His two year ban from the sport expired some time ago and Mike is now determined to prove himself again. Williams is delighted to be able to give him the opportunity.”

Coughlan himself says, “My experience in 2007 was life-changing.”

Parr said that team thought hard about Coughlan’s past before making the appointment but he believes that everyone has a right to move on in life once they have paid the penalty for their misdemeanours.

“My view is quite simple: you do something wrong, you get a penalty, you serve your time and you acknowledge what you did was wrong. Everyone has the right to move beyond that – otherwise, what was portrayed as a two-year penalty is a lifetime penalty, and that is not right, ” he said.

Speaking to reporters this morning Parr also confirmed that Patrick Head, who has been centrally involved on the technical side for over 30 years would be retiring this year, “Patrick has made it clear that he will be retiring this year, so at some point this year that will happen,” he said.

“That’s nothing to do with the restructuring, it’s just the fact that he’s turning 65 and had already signalled that it’s time for him to move on to his next set of interests in life.”

So what do you think? Should Coughlan be allowed to take up such a high profile role after what he did, or is everyone entitled to take a punishment and be rehabilitated?

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Tricky one, this. I would love to see Williams winning races again and, whilst their 2011 car has some interesting innovations and sometimes good performance, this isn't the Williams of days of yore.

I think the current technical team were given a fair crack of the whip and for whatever reason it didn't work out. Now is the time to move on.

Coughlan? I don't have a problem with the appointment at all. He did a stupid thing. He got caught and paid the price. End of the matter for me. Whether he's the right man to turn around the fortunes of Williams I'm not so sure. The McLaren cars under his leadership were very good but they didn't win as much as they should have. Maybe this is his opportunity to realise his ambition?


You're not alone on that Williams winning again bit.

Williams we hoped would make up for budget shortfall with brain power and ingenuity. Good old craftiness. Instead, they have fallen back, have not been more than a flash in the pan here and there since BMW left them - wrongly in my view. It is RedBull who have proven you don't need to be a factory team to win, as Williams did back in the 90s.

I hope this change brings results. Williams must be hungry, and Coughlan must want to right some wrongs and make up for his mistakes. Let's hope their mutual motivation to do well gives the many Williams Fans something to smile about, and soon.


Usually when an institution suffers such endemic failure as has Williams over so many years, the problem is greater than just one man. My suspicion is that the guys making the strategic decisions and/or structures of the team are the ones to blame in this case - which calls for more fundamental changes than getting rid of Sam Michael.

Afterall, engineering problems usually have fairly well understood engineering solutions and unless one can claim convincingly that Sam is not worth his salt as an engineer, it is more realistic that the problem was with the environment within which he sought these solutions. In this case, it would be more usefull and effective to radically change the environment.


Long overdue two years is enough to know if someone in a tech role is delivering-let alone 10+. At £1m p.a. plus Sam looked pricey and wasn't doing the business . I had hopes that the cars promising design this year would deliver but its been shameful for a team with genuine resource to fall behind like this.

If only Adam Parr had had the guts to fall on his sword too the team might get somewhere. It was his job to let the axe fall. He lacks a real racers passion for performance_it always looks like he is going through the motions.

Interesting that the Williams share price went up 25% in the days before the announcement. I know they are new to this but I'm sure that the relevant bodies wont look too kindly on insider trading.


Adam Parr did offer his resignation, but it was turned down. He has also accepted his share of the blame for recent failures. I think you'll find that the share price went up around the time that Williams announced that they would be conducting a full review of the Team performance, they also said that a restructure of the Management team was also a strong possibilty. Sam Michael also hinted that there was a possibilty that he would be leaving the team.


I didn't see that saw that Parr offered his resignation but still offering to resign and resigning are two completely different things. It's a well polished PR move, more suited to a politician than a racer. I don't have faith in anyone who doesn't produce results-You would have thought that with the assets at his disposal dragging a team like Willy's round at the back would make him pass the torch

As for share price other hints of this type don't seem to have produced this type of result. F1 is a small world not known for its discretion.

Jonathan Lodge

Parr did offer his resignation - and had it refused. So, presumably, he does have the guts to fall on his sword.


End of an era when Patrick Head retires. I think it will be a sad day for F1.

It would be nice to see their fortunes improve before he retires so I hope Coughlan can do the business for Williams.


Couldn't agree more


A 2 year penalty should be a 2 year penalty. If he was never supposed to come back, it should have been a lifetime ban.

It wasn't, the ban has ended, and he is free to return to F1.


When you think that The Flav and Pat Symonds were kind of back to the F1 scene just one year after the Singapore scandal, the two year ban Spetney and Coughlan received seems a tad harsh.

What they did at the time was not out of the ordinary from what we heard back then.

But they got caught; and Mosley, who has always sided with Todt, was out to get Ron Dennis.

Two years is more than enough in my opinion. If I were Williams, I would be more woried about how his skills have evolved rather than Coughlan's reputation. Four years away from the sport won't have done his craft any good.


Stepney and Coughlan, not necessarily in that order, have had their names blackened to an extent that they probably did not deserve. It was not Coughlan who betrayed Ferrari. It was his actions that cost Mclaren a farcical fine – if indeed they were required to pay it. For a lesser team it might have been terminal.

It was Mosley who, for whatever reason, hyped the situation into something quite surreal, one which, at the time, most people thought couldn’t be topped for damage to the image of the sport.

What seems unarguable is that we, the normal punters, have not enough information to form a dependable conclusion as to what went on. However, it is apparent that Coughlan was a major player in the soap opera.

Williams, as always, seems intent on pursuing its own path in the sport, a trait that is not always admirable. Perhaps Coughaln has learnt his lesson, such things do happen, but whilst he was not responsible for the farcical and sport-threatening circus that resulted, what he did was to seriously damage the sport, his team and Dennis. And not necessarily in that order.

Perhaps FW is reassured that, at the moment, he has few secrets worth sharing, or selling, to other teams. But given the baggage that Coughlan brings with him, this is not a good move.


It's amazing Sam Michael is gone after the confidence reported at the Williams launch.


I don't think the FW33 is as bad as it looks.

Barrchello would have finished in the points in Australia had he not taken Rosberg out.

The confidence Sam Michael showed probably was on par with Luca di Montezemolo when he said Ferrari was challenging for the title at their Vroooom event in January.


Some crimes are not to be forgiven. This is one of those events. Flavio & Pat will be back soon too I guess. Sir Frank got it wrong from what I see. Williams might struggle to get decent sponsors because of this appointment. time will tell


"Some crimes are not to be forgiven."

Lol... a bit dramatic? Nobody died.

Extreme pressure can cause people to make bad decisions. Can you imagine the pressure to perform at McLaren?

Also, I believe a certain world champion, driving for McLaren at the time, was also knowingly using Ferrari information via Stepney and Coughlan. And who employs him now?

Ghost in the Ruins

They're struggling to get decent sponsors anyway!


Technically every crime is forgivable. Don't confuse forgive with forget.


Pat is back... ferrari employed him....... Pot and kettle anyone??


Are you not mixing up your pats there? The Ferrari one wasn't implicated In the McLaren issue as far as I was aware?

The one you're thinking of (I think) is at virgin...


I thought he was acting as a consultant for Virgin? Have I missed something?


Sorry - my bad.


Yes some crimes - murder for instance - but not this sort of thing. Get it in perspective.


"Get it in perspective."....OK lets do that murder NO but in this sport that is the top level crime against another team so it should have been a lifetime ban....get it prospective I AGREE.


This job will give Coughlan the opportunity to prove his worthiness. As I said, time will tell. I believe in second chances, but not to extent of giving the sports such a bad name. F1 went through some of toughest times, so did McLaren because of the scandal. The position offered to M. Coughlan by the Williams team doesn't fit into perspective of the sports. Yep it's not murder, but cheating & theft aren't much better either


To be honest I don't see what all the fuss is about. F1 has traded for years on espionage and Coughlan was caught. I always felt the FIA had it in for Mclaren in those days ( read Max and Bernie show ) and came down on them way too hard.

Therefore, if he has served his time for the crime, he should be allowed to work in F1 again.

Ferrari can moan all they want, but lets be honest there cars have not been good enough for several years now, so they should stop crying and start designing.


Maybe Coughlan can "acquire" some Red Bull blue prints and get Williams on the right track...


I read a great comment in jest on twitter saying

"A move that should give photocopying shops in Oxfordshire a bit of a boost in the recession then"

made me chuckle.


We know that is how he works


Hopefully he can do that so that everybody gets the blue prints to Red Bull's secret front wing.

Pit straight weaver

All they need to do now is sign up Stepney and they can have a Ferrari-Mclaren clone, circa 07-08... Honestly, he's been away from F1 for three years - can he really be expected to come up with a front-running contender, taking account of all the tech changes since 07? Got a feeling Williams are digging a deeper hole. Still, I bet they got him cheap, which is what Frank and Parr and his bean-counters probably think most important - but it won't get them where they want to be (5th or 6th, wasn't it?)


I was thinking the same, F1 cars seem very different to 3 years ago, maybe they're less technical than they're portrayed.


Time will tell but the Williams tech department needed an electroschock.

Let's not forget Coughlan worked for Adrian Newey in the early 00's.


well, he has done his time. give the man another change. not very likely he would pull the same stunt again


This is not good.

I'm sorry to sound harsh, but these moves smack of desperation in the face of years of mediocrity. At this point, Williams equals Tyrrell; I fear the team will be sold on (or wound up) within the year, but in any event prior to the new formula coming into force.

I hope I'm wrong.


I hope you are wrong too.

Coughlan worked on the 2007 McLaren which was a race winner and should (should) have won the championship that year.

Give the man some technical credit and Williams a chance to bounce back.

The days of Tyrell are long gone and F1 is a different sport now to what it was 12 or 13 years ago, at least financially.


Good points, Damien. As I recall, Mike Coughlan was also the chief designer at Arrows 10 or 12 years ago - back when De la Rosa and Verstappen were the drivers. Those were good cars, but in a team without adequate resources for competitive development or a top class engine.

To me, Coughlan's Arrows background is more relevant to the present situation than his time at McLaren: The Arrows years prove that he can come up with a good design for a scrappy independent team - a team without the cubic dollars and edge of the art facilities he had available during his time at McLaren. He may be just what Williams needs. Having said that, I'll be surprised if the team makes a big step forward in performance before the second half of the season, but you never know.

I hadn't thought about the Arrows/Coughlan/De la Rosa connection until just now. Does anybody know if that's how they wound up together at McLaren?


I didn't know Coughlan worked on the A21 to A23 cars. (The latter became the first Super Aguri car as well.)

I definitely subscriobe to your thinking there. Williams need a man that can innovate rather than refine.

From my understanding, Coughlan will be working on the FW34 rather than the FW33 and any improvement for the current car should come from the team that is already in place.

Finally, I'm pretty sure he would have been recruited by McLaren when Arrows folded mid season in 2002.


I have to add that Mike Coughlan's appointment in itself doesn't bother me. He's served his sentence, and I don't have a problem with him returning to the sport. But he may be landing on the deck of a sinking ship. The fact that the team feels the need for a major shake-up, period, is what worries me.


I think Parr is right. Once the ban has been served he should be allowed back otherwise 2 years becomes life.

I still believe there were other issues in the background surrounding Spygate and that personal agendas were allowed to influence the penalties dished out.

But it is time to move on, and unless Ferrari want to rake over that whole mess again Coughlan needs to be allowed back.


Too little too late, the problem with Williams is Williams.

Only a big manufacturer will ever see Williams as a top team again.

Teams (some great) come & go all the time and let's be honest Williams faded some time ago and in many way (Newey accepted) have never been big thinkers, a team that moved F1 forwards of the likes of say John Barnard at McLaren or of course Colin Chapman of Lotus.

Those that remember the way Williams agreed contract ith both Mansell & Hill only to break them and for Williams to decide and tell Mansell at his press conference that he agreed to Mansell's demands shows how Williams lacks that big push, that whatever it's called.

Williams should now also go if he really cares about the team - maybe one of the manufactures would be interested in buying the heritage and would be able to raise it again?


I voted yes. He's accepted the punishment and taken responsibility for his actions - which is in contrast, in my view, to McLaren at the time.

I'll be sad to see Patrick Head retire, but I also wish to congratulate him on being a great part of F1 history.


Coughlan certainly has the right to return to F1 : He's done the crime and done his time. Whether he will be good for Williams after being out of the sport for a while is the real question : time will tell. Problem is that it'll take him a while to make the changes that he feels he needs to make (plus find a new aero guy) which sorta means that any benefit that MIGHT come from his hiring will still be a full season or two away at best. Tend to agree with a previous comment (on prior Williams-related topic) that they should be SERIOUSLY pursuing a manufacturer/business partner to help take them forward. Getting involved with a Manufacturer in China or Korea would be perfect : untapped market of money and support. Williams Hyundai F1 Racing Team anyone ?


That's the problem with a specialised field such as this one, there is only a handful of capable individuals to pick from. This is why Pat Symonds is still mentioned in F1 circles. (Take Hackers for instance, when the realy good ones eventually get caught they get a slap on the wrist and an offer of eployment.


"is everyone entitled to take a punishment and be rehabilitated?"

Depends on the crime I think, but overall yes, what he did was stupid but it was four years ago, time to move on.

All the teams undertake some form of spying so beware "those that throw stones" etc.

Whether Coughlan will transform Williams technical failings into success or not is a far tougher question.

I hope so, for the sake of Williams.



I always find these kind of restructures odd and wonder how damaging they are to the departing people - surely its a poor reflection of their standing within the team that their going is a POSITIVE step forward for Williams? Where is Sam Michael likely to move to?

I wonder to what extent the Coughlan move has been on the table for some time and this has created unease and resentment in the management.

Williams certainly don't look like a happy ship of late, but is it the performance of the car or inter-team politics creating this impression and which came first? The chicken and the egg scenario...


Maybe Williams thinks that Coughlan still has some Ferrari secrets still laying around.


As far as I'm concerned he has served his penalty issued by the FIA so let him get on with it, although I don't think he will get a welcome back gift from Ferrari:-)

However my view would be different if we were talking about Flavio Briatore or Pat Symonds. Stealing some paperwork is a bit different to encouraging someone to crash their car!!


Think it is not a question of whether this man should be back, but rather what can he do with a team that struggles for money. I mean not even Newey would be able to do very much.

Think this is another sign Williams hires cheap folk (ok assuming from my part he is not comanding a big salary after being out of a job for 4 years) and are desperate and lost.


Yeah, let him have a go I say. He's served his time after all. What point to the punishment if one can't serve it in the hope and expectation that you can by redeemed by it?


If Alonso can continue driving, why should'nt Mike be given another opportunity? After the stunt Alonso pulled with Dennis, and still get away I see no reason why there should be an issue on Coughlans appointment at Williams!


Facts are Alonso knew nothing of the spygate or crashgate. 🙂


Alonso was in the heart of the spygate scandal....it has been well documented the role Alonso played in the Spygate Saga!

Pit straight weaver

Yeah, right. Like the Pakistanis knew nothing of Bin Liner's whereabouts..


The restructuring did not reach high enough. The root to all the problems has always been poor decision making right at the top and it seems to perpetuate itself with yet more poor decision making. However, with public shareholders to answer to, it can't go on for ever. One hopes...


This share float was just to give Patrick head a pension (as if he needed it!) nothing to do with trying to atract new investors, grow the team bla bla.

The more you think about it, Williams can't be a great place to work at if your boss takes £40m out of it and leaves you all in the dumps!


I respect Frank Williams to a great extent, especially considering what he has achieved as an independent team, of course with the Patrick Head as co-driver, but I am not sure I agree with him on this one. I think a sport like Formula 1 should make an example of people like Nigel Stepney and Coughlan.

What they did was despicable, and must not be tolerated in any sport, leave alone the highest level of motorsport. Life bans for them along with Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds is what I would recommend, but I'm not sure if Jean Todt or Uncle Bernie are from the same school of thought as me.

A lot of teams spend hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of hours to develop their cars & gain a couple of tenths, and for someone to think they can sell their teams secrets to another team for a couple of million is not on.

And for them to have received just a two year ban, is arguably a very wrong decision.

If I were running a business and someone working for me gave out my trade secrets to a rival and got away with it with just a rap on the knuckles, I would be just as pissed as Luca di Montzemolo would have been a couple of hours ago when he heard of Williams hiring Coughlan.

Pit straight weaver

+1! (And I'm no fan at all of Ferrari..)


Why isn't it right for him to comeback?!Ferrari cheated last season and didn't even get a penalty! lets not even mention 08!

Michael Prestia

The guy has no Morals. Any reputable company would not hire this type of leader, whether they served their penalty to society or not. I was never a fan of the Williams team but it played a special part in Canadian history as that is where Jacques won his championship... now I just lost all respect for that team. Its too late to realize their mistake with this appointment so my hope is that they continue to slide into the gutter!


is the f1 hiring pool this desperate for talent?


We are currently watching F1 be dominated by a team that everyone suspects is breaking the rules but is impossible to prove. F1 is full of rule bending on all sides. Why punish one person more who has obviously been punished sufficiently for his crime.


One wonders if a two year ban is really just that. It would be condemned the taking away forever a man's ability to make a living, but it can be implied.

Cheating in general is a despicable form of dishonesty; on the level of Coughlin-Stepney it is dishonor most foul.


Michael should have gone a good many years ago...he's always looked out of his depth.

As for Coughlin, I think it's a smart move...the guy will be hungry for success to redeem himself and his name.

I look forward to seeing Williams return to where they belong.


I'm not sure we ever had the full story about the Coughlan-copy shop 'scandal'. Whatever it really was, McLaren was given a spectacularly disproportionate duffing-up for reasons which related to grand-standing personality politics, not technical infringements. The personalities - and their monumental egos - have now moved on, so perhaps the sport and Mike Coughlin can too.


Though their misdemeanors are not comparable by any means, it would be interesting if James had a similar poll here asking if it's OK to see Flavio Briatore back in the sport in a significant role.


Seems pretty clear that the only thing that renders a person unemployable in F1 is a lack of talent. If someone's talented, it really doesn't matter *what* they've done -- they'll get another job.


It was three seasons ago. He's tarnished his own name and been out of the business the whole time. Time to move on. Good for him for getting another shot at it.


And how will he look into the eyes of Ferrari guys?

Pit straight weaver

So Parr's claiming he offered to resign? Why the hell didn't they bite his hand off? What's he got - a gold-plated parachute clause or something? James, if someone senior-ish in F1 offers to quit of their own accord, do contracts usually tie the team to making big payouts anyways?..


A Geoff Willis return is what the doctor ordered!


In Spy Gate & crash gate ultimately its team principals responsibility and they have to be banned. For a team whose boss is reputed to have freakish zeal for "attention to detail" and who is well known as a control freak, its hard to believe that middle level management and drivers were testing without any control of top bosses. Its not fair that the top bosses get away with 100 Million fine while the engineer who is made to do the dirty work is punished for life.

Same is case in Crash Gate, Symonds, Permane, Piquet Jr shouldn't be made to suffer for life, because the Team Principle Briatore made a young driver to do wrong thing under duress in conflicting roles as his team boss as well as his manager.

To bring down a tree, cut the trunk don't prune the branches....


In a field of excitement, innovation and sheer brilliance, Williams come across as a bunch of enthusiasts that are just chuffed to be there. They haven't been even slightly competitive for years.

I love them so much, but they need a little more than a miracle right now.


> to oversee development of the 2011 car to unlock its potential

What a laughable phrase.

What they *actually mean is "no one else wants to be associated with this turkey so we might as well let him try something"

Well, if no improvements happen with their new wings and other bits next race, I doubt he'll stay around unlocking things to the end of the season!


Wait and see. Look how McLaren turned their car around, look at Williams' start to 2010 and the way they ended. You are too dismissive of people's efforts



I agree with you on the Williams' potential to turn the car around. But what I didn't like was announcement of Sam Michael and Jon Tomlinson resigning at end of the season made public so early in the season. This announcement should have been made around last race of the season. Now the cloud of the imminent departures is going to hang over everybody's head and not exactly good for the team spirit....

Reminds me of the trend in English and Oz Cricketers who announce their quitting sport in midst of a cricket tour, which in my opinion distracts the team, loses focus on the matters on hand.

Only Coughlan joining should have been announced for now.


Sad to see Williams slipping down the grid. I hope this isn't a move towards short-termism in order to placate the new shareholders.


If it is right for De la Rosa and Alonso to be still in F1 (who were part of spreading that info) then he should be too.


You forgot Ron Dennis, who as the team boss had ultimate responsibility to report Coughlan to FIA right after Coughlan provided him information about the illegal floor on Ferrari car. This is April'07 I am referring to when Coughlan had shared the information provided by Stepney about the illegal floor. McLaren management used that information to report Ferrari, but chose not to report Coughlan, this was indirectly encouraging its employees to get more information about the opponent team.

Per McLaren After Coughlan shared news of having access to Ferrari diagram, Coughlan was reprimanded and advised not to share the information within Organization.

A big fat lie again, the right thing was to report FIA of their employee having access to competitions data.

That McLaren chose not to do this clearly makes the team bosses guilty from this point onwards.

For someone who has gone official that his "control freak" nature stems from his upbringing, its hard to believe that such a boss has no idea that his engineer and two senior drivers are testing stuff based on Ferrari data.

IMO Ron Dennis/McLaren got off lightly by paying monetary fine, if they are still allowed to be part of the game, then Coughlan has officially served his punishment.


^ This



how long would Sam Michael be banned from working for other teams after the termination of his contract (I recall that even Tony Ross, who was 'only' a race engineer at Williams, was not allowed to take up work at Mercedes GP until April 11)? And: any ideas yet where Sam might end up? Contrary to most people's view, I for one do think that he was more than up to the job...


I'd imagine 6 months, but if he has no role in 2011 car they probably negotiate it down. He will find a role if he wants one at another team. He's well regarded in the pit lane as a very good engineer

Pit straight weaver

I've never understood this about Michael (ditto for Gascoyne and a few others) - certain people seem to get a reputation as 'good' engineers etc without much of a record to back it up. So does the 'pit lane' know things we don't get to hear - ie along the lines that Michael's talent has been stifled by Frank/Pat all these years and that given a free rein he'd be knocking out world-beaters year after year?.. I just don't get it. (Though I must admit this phenomenon of people suddenly getting reputations they don't deserve, imho, isn't limited to F1 - just think of Carrick, Barry, Milner, pretty much the whole England midfield!)


PSW - Excellent Point, I have expressed this thought about F1 being a closed community and lots of inbreeding happening with same people recycled again and again in all F1 projects.

Gascoyne, Sam Michael etc have "Reputation" that has seen them being given long end of stick just like some journeymen drivers who have "reputation" even without results to back to go around for year after year until one fine year the car they drive turns out to be so great that they end up winning title or fighting closely for the title.

Which begs the question, if ultimately is all about car, why these average talents get long end of stick while some other genuine winners get shafted out of the circus.

The answer somewhere has to do about the "interpersonal" skills of these people to manage the press and manage their bosses and keep going on while genuine talent (driving, engineering, and designing) gets overlooked by the "Self proclaimed" Pinnacle of Motor racing.


Four years into a two year ban ?

Of course he should be allowed back.

And why should Ferrari's reaction matter in at all ?


This is the danger of being a public company who's performance is judged every fortnight.

Shareholders won't have the patience and they will demand answers and actions and that will normally result in people being hired/fired or the company being 'restructured'.

The season is 3 races old and already the team suffers a massive shakeup, one which will take at least 6 months to start to show any real trend information but by then the season will be over and it will all be about next years car.

I would imagine it has been hard to have a good focus on building a race car with an IPO in progress. That would be a massive distraction in a small organisation like Williams so what they probably need is a period of stability and perhaps someone to take a second look at the car and processes.

Now that Coughlan has served his penalty then he should be free to return but you get the feeling he wasn't the first choice.

I can't help but feel that Williams has got quite corporate since Parr was added to the team and they are perhaps overstretched and lacking in the racing focus that they once had.

I really can't see a bright future for Williams without some very ballsy management of the shareholders expectations, something that doesn't seem to be in place at this time.


Williams have had a fairly stable life since late 2005, coinciding with BMW's departure.

If anything, I think the performance demands of the publicly listed company can only do them good.

That said, let's not forget Sir Frank still holds about 70% of the company; and remains a major safeguard.

Personally, I am more concerned with Adam Parr's management and lack of decent sponsorship. Maldonado has shown in China he does not really has what it takes to be in that seat.

Even Kazuki Nakajima showed more promises after three races! (No, I'm not joking.)

Time will tell if Coughlan is a good choice. Whatever the issue is in the Williams technical department, a shake up was needed. Let's give Williams a year to see how these changes impact its sporting performance. After all, it took Newey a couple of years for Red Bull Technology to design a winning car (Monza 08).


He's served his time, and Williams need to do something. Let's give him another chance. I think he's learned his lesson.


Coughlans return is fine by me. He was rightly punished but has served his time and deserves a 2nd chance, I highly doubt he'd be foolish enough to allow himself to be caught in any controversy again. Its not like he's guilty as some in the more recent scandals that has hit F1, which has involved team bosses and drivers.


I've no moral problem with Coughlan returning, he's more than served his two years. Besides, lots of other shady stuff happens, I suspect much of it is never uncovered.

I agree with other commenters, though: the big move itself seems a little desperate. It reminds me of football clubs these days who seem happy to sack their manager after a mere short run of bad games. It's not the answer.

Williams, like Ferrari and Mercedes, looked decent in testing but haven't quite got it together yet. If, as they hope, they do get it together over the next few races and catch up, this purge might look rash in hindsight, and they'll have replaced a 10-year veteran of the team with someone who's been out of the industry for years.


I voted no but have just seen the story that Ferrari are trying to buy F1! You couldn't make it up.


That will never happen


Well they may as well make it formal lol (joking!)


lol! nice one


Well the BBC reports that Parr did submit and was refused his resignation - which I think is fair, after all he isn't involved with the technical side. As for Coughlan - yes he made a mistake and paid the price. He now has an opportunity to do some good, what he does bring to Williams is the knowledge of how Mclaren were organised internally, how they operated and how they reacted to the endless development race - that in itself may be invaluable; fair enough it is not current knowledge but he has been involved with demonstrably far better race winning cars in the relatively recent past than Williams itself has. Also Coughlan is going to be out to prove that he can still do the job. Next big signing for Williams - Pat Symonds when his ban expires perhaps? Why not - he knows how to manage a technical team with limited resources and win. Place your bets.


Any tech head who so openly favoured Ralf Schumacher over the fabulous JP Montoya was well past his used by date anyhow so all the best Sam,only thing is now they've gone from one who couldn't pick the winning ticket in a one horse race to one with questionable ethical standards,hmmmmm.


Not controversial in my view. As Williams say themselves, he's served his time and if he was not meant to work in F1 again it should have been a lifetime ban.

...I didn't hear so much issue being taken with Pat Symonds being contracted to work for Virgin this year, and he asked a young driver to deliberately risk his life by crashing a car in a sanctioned F1 event!



Why make such a big deal about Coughlan when Alonso was a guilty player in Spygate as someone who admitted his role to Max in return for an amnesty and is now a hired employee of Ferrari!

Are we not guilty of hypocrisy treating drivers with kid gloves because they are seen as the stars of F1 while making scapegoats of the engineers?

If we want to make an issue of this, why not comment on Pat Symonds or Briatore, serving bans in F1 for arranging a crash compared to something more trivial? Pat Symonds is now a consultant to Virgin Racing and Briatore a frequent visitor to Maranello.


Did I miss something or is James' article not about Couglan and Williams.


I don't have a problem with mike coughlan coming back. If anyone is going to believe espionage is not commonplace they'd probably be mistaken.

He's served his time. I hope he can help williams maximise the potential of this years car.

Good to see Sam making an appearance tonight at the senna movie (but kept a low profile after a busy press day).

And thanks James for taking the time to say hello as i picked up my tickets. The fact you recognised my name shows how much time I spend commenting on this site, much to my wifes disgust 🙂

Like many others I enjoy the informed debate on here. Some first class commenters on here too.


it would be interesting what he comes up with given how long hes been away from the sport, but i suppose that is what we said about kenny dalgleish and liverpool fc


Sorry, you lost me with the last bit . . .



Sam Michael was never really the true Technical Director at Williams and this is the real problem. Prior to Williams, Sam was one of the most respected engineers in the pitlane. He was hired at Williams as a Technical Director but the real Technical Director at Williams has always been Patrick Head. Sam was never given the freedom within the rigid structure of Williams to make a difference. Look back to when Adrian Newey left to join Mclaren in 1997, he left because he was NOT allowed to take the car in the development direction he wanted, he always had Patrick Head watching over his shoulder. Newey realised this would never work and moved on. The only mistake that Sam Michael has made is to wait 11 years to realise this. Good luck in the future Sam this next move will prove you are in the elite...


Everyone should be given a second chance except Flav and Osama Bin Laden. Oh, hang on...

Dougie Smythe

Coughlan has served his punishment as meted out by the sport's body, and it's been two years since the end of the ban.

EVERYONE (Coughlan, you, and me) deserves a second chance. I think Coughlan should be given a chance at redemption.

I've always been a McLaren fan, but I do have a soft spot for Williams when Senna was there. I hope they get a chance to improve their cars' performance.



Really hate to say it, but I wonder if anyone has overlayed the last 14 years with the last 15 years of Tyrell -- too many points of similarity to count -- really makes me sad.

Maybe Frank can talk Fiat into rebranding a Ferrari lump as a Chrysler, al la the Lambo Chrysler back in the day...


Wow, looks like a desperate move after only 3 races into the season. Have to wonder if the team is being run on results or share price. If you were a big sponsor would you have confidence in going to Williams or would you be looking somewhere else?

Pit straight weaver

The shakeup buys them time, which is probably what it's really all about - now they can 'do a Mercedes' and tell everyone, including shareholders, they're writing off this season to concentrate on next with the new team members, so a run of mediocre results for the rest of this year won't be picked over by the press as they would without the changes. But they will have to deliver sooner or later, and I personally don't think they will - time will tell. They need new drivers for a start - two.

As a Brit who grew up in the 80s and 90s in Oxford with Williams as the local team I was a massive supporter until about six years ago (despite Frank's sometimes absurd treatment of his established, championship-winning drivers) when it became clear they were becoming a bit of a mess. I still have a soft spot, but the young today don't know the history - they think of Williams as I used to think of Tyrrell and Lotus - midfield runners on the whole, making up the numbers, with a vague idea that there'd been a more gloried past.) It's quite sad, but Frank and Pat haven't exactly been making the best decisions for the past 15 years or so, so you reap what you sow, I guess...


Just wondering how hands off Frank William and Patrick Head have been in recent years? Williams' aero dept seem to have been struggling ever since the walrus nose FW26.

Obviously a trade sale would have been preferred but the IPO seems like a mistake & distraction for any F1 team (aside from giving Patrick Head a very well deserved retirement plan) - are there many teams that actually make money & pay dividends for their shareholders? Most successful teams are primarily subsidized PR vehicles to drive sales for their owner's mainstream businesses - Red Bull - drinks; Ferrari - road cars; Mercedes - road cars, etc. If Williams don't get this right, you will see the regular typical change of CEO & management announcements that plague other listed companies.

Sterling Mindenhall

What the heck happened to Williams? Chávez, now Coughlin? Who's next?

Frank Williams must be disappointed he can no longer get bin Laden in his ranks.


I voted yes, i dont have a problem with his return. He needs to do a lot to restore his reputation though. I cant see McLaren or Ferrari welcoming him back with open arms.

Still i wouldnt begrudge him a second chance in F1.


I don't see how Coughlan's appointment is in any way controversial?


It is wrong to continually rake over past events without reason. We all make mistakes and should be given every chance to learn from them. Some mistakes are such that they require a road to Damascus type of moment for everyone to be able to move on.

Coughlan has brought this matter up - for a second time - by coming back into F1.

One point I would like to take up: you do not 'repay your debt to society', society in this case being the whole F1 circus, fans and all, by serving your punishment. All that has happened is that you have been punished. What about the £100 million, the harm done to Dennis and his team, the damage to the credibility of the sport? Has all this suddenly become settled because two years are up?

Coughlan’s actions were merely a catalyst to the political events that were generated and we have to say that the main culprit was not him. However his degree of involvement, given it is a little clouded, was probably substantial.

We have all heard of Stepney’s touting of the current Ferrari specifications and designs to the pitlane but what has never been made clear is what Coughlan, as his partner, brought to the pot. The obvious answer, that of similar details of the current McL, would have taken the legs away from the prosecution of Dennis’ team.

But it is all over now. Without all the information there is little we can conclude.

The real question is not what Coughlan did and whether or not three years is enough for absolution but Williams’ actions in employing him. Given the behaviour of Ferrari at the time and since Stepneygate this is a bit of a slap in their face. It has not, let us face it, been done from a position of strength.

If it was me, I would have to be certain that he brought something to the team that made the resentment caused worth the outlay. He’s good, of that there can be no doubt. But McL were able to replace him quickly without apparent trouble.

And then there is the knowledge that he’s been tested in the past and found wanting. It is easy enough to suggest that he has learnt his lesson but only time will tell. He is like a Cat D write-off. It is a risk taking one on. You never know.

Dylan Reynolds

In my view, which I am sure is a lot of peoples view, his actions were totally unacceptable. BUT he served his penalty and everyone should be given a chance to make up for their mistakes. Williams is a really high profile team to work with after being out of the sport for his misdemeanors but its not like he wasn't willing to prove himself from the very bottom wrung of the ladder again; case and point his willingness to be associated with a team like Stefan GP. Not that Stefan GP would have been bad necessarily, but going on how the new teams are performing it would be a safe assumption that it would have been a test of character for MC, hence showing his determination to learn from his mistakes and to reinstate some trust to him. I can live with that.

Quick Nick Rules

He served his time and like others have pointed out, Briatore and Symonds' crimes were worse. He could be good for Williams, he always designed decent slippery cars at Arrows. He was just let down by a low budget and crap drivers (apart from Jos The Boss obviously, he was mega!). The '02 car was great in the hands of HHF, if only they'd had Jos The Boss in the second seat instead of that donkey Bernoldi they could have had podiums. I seem to recall that car was 2 seconds quicker than the Jaguar with the same engine, and look where that team is now....


I guess he's done his time. Schui deliberately tried to crash rivals out of races to win, and how we talk about him as one of the greats. Most of all I just hope Williams can get back up the front, but this appointment tells me they are desperate.


To spy or not to spy: that was the question. The answer was "to spy" in a more direct manner and I'm sure monsieur cough-cough-Coughlan learned not to do it again. I never really followed all those spy scandals because they were pretty boring. The man deserves a second chance in the sport, while Williams need a new direction.

I suppose all F1 teams have their own photographers in the pit lane who - especially during winter testing - are busy taking shots or rival teams' cars as they pass by and I always assumed it was for their love of photography and not spying. Don't tell me I was wrong, my poor heart won't survive that!


He and stepney should have been banned for life. What they did was a disgrace to F1.


I admire Williams reasoning for hiring Coughlan but the big questions is will it be a distraction to the team as they try to turn their sow's ear into a silk purse. They took a big throw of the dice this year with all the innovations which got them plenty of ooohs and ahhs but didn't pan out. No matter, there won't be any quick fix or magic bullet, just a lot of retracing of steps.


I remember one F1 driver said "F1 is basically a war, in war everything is fair". I guess those who get caught suffer more but what if that's what everyone is doing?


sam michaels sacking was way overdue williams havent won a Gp since 2004 when michael replaced patrick head as technical director....he was always more of a talker than a doer

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