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.
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?