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Williams strengthens engineering team
Posted By: James Allen  |  28 Jun 2011   |  9:40 am GMT  |  58 comments

Williams has recruited two new senior engineers as it faces up to a new future under the technical direction of Mike Coughlan.

They have hired the highly regarded Mark Gillan as Chief Operations Engineer. Gillan worked at Jaguar Racing and Red Bull before quitting F1 to take up a professorship at the University of Surrey. He starts work on October 1 and will be in action from the Japanese Grand Prix onwards. Also announced today is the new head of aerodynamics, Jason Somerville, an ex Williams employee who has been at Toyota and Renault in recent years. He starts work after the summer shutdown in August.

Gillan is an inspired signing. Although Jaguar never hit the peaks in terms of F1 design excellence, Gillan’s role at trackside drew many admirers. I remember Eddie Irvine saying that he had struggled his whole career with finding a set up when a particular understeer issue arose and Gillan fixed it for him quickly and without fuss.

Outgoing technical director Sam Michael came from an operations background and found himself over stretched in recent years overseeing the entire operation on the design and operational sides. It appears with these appointments that Coughlan will take overall control and focus on his strength, which is on the design side, along with Somerville, while Gillan will run the show at the circuit.

Williams’ weakness in recent years has been that it hasn’t come out of the box with a quick enough car at the start of the season. Its development has been quite impressive given the resources available, but if this structure is given the resources and the backing, it could deliver.

The only problem is F1 technology moves on so quickly and engineers who have been out of the game for a while need some time to catch up. By starting this process now, they ought to be up to speed as the 2012 car designs get underway. There aren’t too many rule changes for 2012, so there is a lot of carry over of learnings and developments from this year to next.

Sir Frank Williams said, “Williams F1 is looking forward to welcoming Jason and Mark to the team. They bring with them talent, experience and good team skills. We now feel that, together with Mike Coughlan, Jason and Mark can form the right technical leadership to take the team forward as we work our way back to the front of the grid.”

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It hurts me to say it but i think its time that both frank and patricl should have sold up 3 years ago. They have made some bad decisions in the past but the amount of mistakes have increased in the last few years. My favourite team, but going the way of other old favouriterp.


This is a very interesting debate!

Ultimately, the success or rather lack of, boils down to how the teams resources are managed.Williams are certainly not short of the technical resources to design/develop/produce whatever components are required.The key element has to be the aerodynamic package and how this is (constantly) developed into winning races.

It is no co-incidence that Adrian Newey has ben a major factor in Red Bull’s success but the whole process still has to be very carefully managed to generate success on the track as there are so many factors, such as the interface with the race engineers and drivers, that are critical to transfer the technical advances to producing an incremental improvement in performance…which can change on a day by day basis.

Managing this process is no easy job, regardless of resources, and hopefully, this is the area that Williams have identified as the root of their lack of topline performance.

As others have commented, it may take a while but in reality, Williams will be expecting an improvement for next season.


A really tough time for Williams. Even if they’ve now got a dream team it’s still going to take a long time to turn things around. Look at Redbull – they threw huge amounts of money at a midfield team and got the best people possible and it still took 4 years to get a win. I really hope Williams can sustain the pressure.


To be honest, all they need is a new Xerox for Coughlan to use – oh, and a ‘mole’ inside Red Bull… 😉


And he needs to stay away from copy-shops where the owner is wearing a Ferrari or Red Bull hat! 😉

Liam in Sydney

I reckon Williams need to be smarter about this. Rather than hiring ex-staff from other teams, they should instead go through the top crop of mega-geniuses from the top universities in the UK (or even worldwide) and put these braniacs to work in their tech department. Eventually you will find someone suitable for the company, will be paid far less than these 2 people, and will be able to learn that much faster due to their youth. It might not pay off ‘this year’, but would pay off big time in two or three seasons from now. Anyone else think that hiring these uni-leaving age geniuses in the way to go?


They do that anyway

Adrian Newey Jr

Williams somehow need an inspiring figure. Be it a driver or a team manager. That will draw the best people in the industry to work with them in order to try to build a legacy. Perhaps James could give some insight into how the revised Williams team rates compared to other engineers round the paddock.


THey offered Ross Brawn a share of equity to join when he quit Ferrari in 2006. He took a year off then went to Honda instead

Adrian Newey Jr

I’m guessing he would have had a few offers. Looks like Ross knew more than everyone esle in the industry – avoiding the Williams train wreck and picking the once in a decade wonder car!

How do you evaluate the team coming together at Williams James? Could you give a rank to the engineering teams in the pitlane? Or would this offend too many sources? 🙂


Would be hard to do, to be honest. There is so much depth to them and one only sees the front men. I have a lot of time for Mark Gillan, he’s a very good engineer. So is Sam Michael, but he was overstretched and this set up should work better. But it’s down to the design and aero people – if thye build a good car, Gillan’s side will race it well.


I believe in Mike Coughlan.


Oh, he certainly exists!



Marty McSuperFly

post of the day in my opinion 😉

Jerome Olivier

What Williams need is a works engine deal, if you work hand it hand with an engine supplier you always gain that extra bit.


Theyvare closing in inns a Renault deal


Really? Wow – would be great to see ‘Williams Renault’ again – a classic combination. Losing Renault last time was the start of their decline


1997: Williams Renault – Constructors chammpions, first and second in drivers championship, 123 points.

1998: Williams Mecachrome: 3rd in constructors champ, 3rd and 5th in drivers, 38 points…


I believe the start of their decline was sam michael…..they havent won a race ever since he took over as tech director in 2004


I really hope that this is the beginning of a turn around – although I’ve been making that wish for several years in a row now. I thought this year could be great, with Rubens input in the car and some extra money from South American fuel. So I wonder if mismanagement is the problem, as other people have suggested? From what I have seen/heard/speculated, Sam Michael is not a bad technical director, and I’ve heard a few people say that he was just spread to thin at Williams. Doesn’t seem fair that he should take the rap for the underperforming car. I have big a Williams fan for many years now, but I really need to see some changes – I’m afraid Rubens has to go, Hulkenburg should be back in, or Di Resta, Maldonado should be a third driver, and we need a proven quick no.1 driver – someone like Kovalainen, Trulli, Kubica or perhaps even someone less experienced like Kobyashi or Petrov? I would love to see Button back at Williams, but I can’t see him switching seats right now!


These guys don’t appear to have the profiles of top-notch technical leaders. It all feels a bit like Williams is looking to the past rather than the future in its leadership hiring strategy. Veterans and refugees probably won’t cut it.


Well Coughlan was one of the more important men in McLaren.


True, and he was at Arrows before his Macca stint. And Arrows had some pretty good cars on his watch, but didn’t have the resources to develop them into consistent challengers. Given Williams’ current state, it may be Arrows all over again.

Speaking of which (as I glance at my Arrows windbreaker) James, does John Menard still own the Arrows assets? Do you think Coughlan may try to tap into any of his old connections from that team?


Hi James

What was the Irvine understeer situation? A Monza/Hockenheim low downforce problem?


A very common problem for him throughout his F1 career.

Marty McSuperFly

I remember a conversation with Willem Toet, in which he said how Irvine was a fabulous driver (and never quite got the deserved kudos), but that a big difference between the respective performance between he and Schumacher, was that Schumacher could drive around such problems, and very quickly too.


I wonder why Schumacher lost his ability to drive around problems?

Marty McSuperFly

@James, pretty sure Mark Gillan has been consulting in F1, so might not need much time to get up to speed in terms of any particular technology. I’d guess he will need time for organisational integration though.

Bit of a loss for Surrey in my opinion.


It is debatable whether Williams in recent years has not come out of the box with a quick car. There was a season or two a couple of years ago that they were OK initially, and then lost out as the season progressed because they lost out in development.

Also there were seasons were they started not so good but after that developed the car and it became better.

One should admire their patience in recent years. They have been nowhere compared to the old days.

If they know what they want to achieve and have the right philosophy, then things should be better.


Yeah, 2009 when they had the double diffuser, along with Toyota and infamously Brawn. Rosberg was often running in the top 3 early in races, but never managed the big points haulls.

The less said about Nakajima, of course, the better.

Tom in adelaide

Time to show Rubens the door….. asap.


How dare you! Rubens is all they’ve got going for them just now. Who’s bagged all the season’s points? Who blew away ‘future World Champion’ Hulkenberg last season? Who is widly credited inside the team with getting them on the right track last season?

These new appointments – albeit in my view 3 or 4 seasons too late – and further internal rejigs might spark a revival of sorts for Williams. I hope Rubens can be bothered sticking around to see. The man is a legend.


While i like rubens he blew away a rookie.


It was Rubens who stuck his head up and said get more resources in engineering (i think) or i am out of here…good on him.

The team is obviousley taking on board what he has said…

I think they could do a lot worse than Rubens and like many drivers down the ranks at the moment, in the right car would be winning again.


It’s all about the package.

Also need strong engine and reliable KERs.

And a couple of drivers who can extract 100% performance from the car.

All in all a step in the right direction.


Fingers crossed these guys can come up with some good stuff. It’s good to see Williams actively recruiting engineers with known pedigree and experience.


James, do you know what are the Williams car weaknesses ? It looks more impressive than the Sauber at first sight yet it’s much slower in race trim.

Besides, is the Cosworth engine a decent powertrain ?


Williams swung for the fences on a lot of things this year. Things that just didn’t pan out. Like the gear box that everyone went ga-ga over. During past decade, they’ve either played their cards close to the vest or have been way over the top with wild innovations, etc. It’s been hard to find that middle ground that delivers solid results.


I understand (I’ll tweet you) that the Cosworth numbers and performance are pretty decent, and that engines tend not to be that much of a differentiator in performance terms. Where I believe they are different (for instance renault) is in fuel consumption and therefore overall packaging.


That question has puzzled me, too, Jo. The conclusion I reached, without any inside knowledge, of course, is that the Cosworth must be at least OK, based on the raw pace of the Williams not being significantly different than in its Toyota days. Conversely, Lotus’ move to Renault power seems not to have significantly improved their pace. There could be packaging or other supplementary benefits elsewhere, I guess, as the Cosworth is, I think, older technology.



Current cosworth V8 was homologated in 2006. So the same age broadly as the other engines in F1.


The current Cosworth V8 was homologated in 2006, so is basically same generation as most of the other engines.

Oxford Bullnose

Williams has entered last-chance saloon, I reckon. I hope these guys can help turn them around, but if they’re going to make so much difference shouldn’t they already be high earners in F1 (i.e. what’s the guy working in a university for – if he could really make a difference wouldn’t he have stayed in F1 in the first place?)

Sad to say, I think all these stories about Williams’ reorganization are kind of clutching at straws for headlines (for any shareholders, real or potential) – they should just get on with the business of putting things right quietly – stop talking the talk, start walking the walk..

Marty McSuperFly

You do realise that people who can reach that level in academia tend to be rather useful at somethings?

Have a look at Prof. Gillan’s background:


Oh dear. A consultant to Toyota F1?

Oxford Bullnose

He’s obviously a clever guy, our unis are full of them (in science and engineering depts at least – yes, I work in a uni), but tbh I look at that summary (Jag? Toyota?) and I worry. Great if the new guys can do it for Team Willy (as us locals used to refer to them), but I fear they’ve gone a bit too far off the boil to recover by tinkering with certain staff – sadly, a more radical overhaul might be the only way out (though I’d never expect FW to go that way). Fingers crossed, but as I said before, less talk more action would be welcome.

Marty McSuperFly

Williams are a mid-field team. Fact. As much as I don’t like that, it happens. Just look at Tyrell.

They’ve been able to hire some people who had a decent input on race and championship winning cars. If I was a share-holder, I would probably think that it was a good thing.

For whatever reason the team would like to give, they think they under performed. If that poor performance (and therefore stock value loss) continues, as a shareholder I would want the board replaced.


One was working at Red Bull, before decided to take a job at a university (I would say that points to a lifestyle choice as Luke suggests) and the other for Renault.

So they were with top teams.

I just hope they can turn this team around – Williams is a name I hold in high esteem and they should be fighting it out with Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull.


That this is quite possibly Williams’ last chance, I do not doubt but neither Patrick Head nor Adrian Newey were high profile F1 high earners when they joined Williams; nor, if I recall correctly, was Steve Nichols at McLaren or Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne at Benetton.

Somerville and Gillan’s backgrounds at Jaguar and Toyota, two legendary underperformers, are concerning but then both teams were really guilty of mis-managing their talent rather than lacking it.

As for the public announcements, these are essential for any team looking to keep or raise a profile and secure investment. Information flow is also good for F1 generally.


To be fair it could have just been a lifestyle choice.

Maybe Gillan just didn’t fancy travelling the world and working the long hours away from his family for a while.


Williams certainly need to do something and I really hope this is it.

It is sad watching this once great team, built around the design excellence of Patrick Head and later Adrian Newey, some outstanding drivers and the tenacity of its founder, struggle. A prolonged and terminal decline, such as we saw with BRM in the ’70s, and Lotus and Tyrrell in the ’90s would be awful.


“A prolonged and terminal decline, such as we saw with BRM in the ’70s, and Lotus and Tyrrell in the ’90s would be awful.”

Unfortunately, this is exactly how it looks from the outside. Sponsorship will dry up without improved results, I fear, to say nothing of the impact on stock price…


Would be nice to see a more competitive Williams, they just seem so inconsistent recently compared to the top 5 or 6 teams and lacking in raw pace most of the time…


I look forward to throwing an impromptu party for one in my lounge on the day that Williams next wins a GP. It will be an incredibly emotional event! Williams’ past success should be an inspiration to themselves the smaller independant teams. Besides, success is hard to come by – McLaren’s track record over the past 20 years in terms of drivers and constructors championships is awful when you consider their vast wealth and resources.


I’m with you. I hope to see the day….


I know what you mean. Everything I read about Williams nowadays just makes me depressed. It’s been long in the making so it’s not going to be corrected any time soon.

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