Williams announces changes

Williams F1 has announced that Technical Director, Sam Michael, and Chief Aerodynamicist, Jon Tomlinson, have resigned from their positions within the company, to take effect at the end of the year.

“Both Sam and Jon are talented and driven people who have worked hard for Williams over 10 and five years respectively,” said Sir Frank Williams. “Nonetheless, they have recognised that the team’s performance is not at the level that it needs to be and have resigned in order to give the team the opportunity to regroup and undertake the changes necessary to get back to the front of the grid. Both will continue to work in their present positions through until the end of the year to ensure that the team maintains focus and momentum during the 2011 season.”

The team has also announced that it has signed Mike Coughlan in the role of Chief Engineer. He will start in June. Coughlan is a curious appointment given his involvement in the McLaren scandal in 2007. He does have a long career in F1 behind him, beginning with Team Lotus with spells at Tyrrell, Ferrari and Arrows before joining McLaren in 2002 as Chief Designer. Since the McLaren affair he has been Chief Engineer in the development of the Ocelot Light Protected Patrol Vehicle and has worked for Michael Waltrip Racing in NASCAR.

“Mike Coughlan is a fine engineer with extensive experience across Formula 1 and both civil and defence engineering,” says Frank Williams. “He left Formula 1 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 to do this and we are very pleased to have one of the most talented and competitive engineers in the sport helping us to return to the front of the grid. This is the first step in re-building and strengthening our technical group. We will announce the next steps as they develop.”

Given that Coughlan’s title is chief engineer, it is clear that Williams has other plans for the technical director’s role and indeed the chief aerodynamicists position.

25 thoughts on “Williams announces changes

  1. A “Night of the Long Knives” down at Grove then. I wonder if getting rid of Sam Michael is going to help the team move forwards He seems to me to be fully committed to Williams and surely the poor performance of the cars (by previous championship winning standards) can’t be layed at his door. As you say Joe the TD job is to be confirmed, I wonder who will get that job, could Geoff Willis be ready to go home?

    Signing Mike Coughlan is in my opinion an inspired move, he did a good job at McLaren and he has served his time so all is forgiven, isn’t it?

  2. Is it just me or does this sound like a ploy to keep the shareholders happy….

    Williams need to turn the car around now, not in a years time and this information release does nothing for this season and both of these guys are capable of making imporements to the car..

    On that basis, when the team does turn around this year, which it is more than capable of doing, it will be as a result of these guys… bet they do not get re-instated

    So that leaves a bad smell around this decision as politics with a small p effects one of the sports great teams.

  3. Sam Michael’s was pretty much a given. Aero-guy going too? Well, it’s logical.

    I just have a feeling this is too little too late.

  4. With this announcement, Williams fans can now write-off present season as well…..

    And Mike Coughlan, hope he and his partner have learned enough from Kinko’s scandal to buy their own multifunctional printer 🙂

  5. Sam Michael always struck me as the pleasant product of a family recently become middle class and comfortable.

    Coughlan presumably passed some stringent legal hygeine tests, Williams being quoted now.

    Well, i like the idea of putting in some hardened types.

    Thing is, how much of an advert for talent is the Coughlan hire?

    In the US startup tech community, being in a huge legal scrap and going bust are attractions to other employees, who want to learn lessons. Is the culture comparable? Is it just a recongition of being an outcast, one time “insider”, given so many lean seasons?

    I can’t say, more i apply logic to my own decisions, more likely i justify exactly the wrong one.

  6. So will we be seeing Nigel Stepney back too?

    On one hand, the 2 year ban has expired. But given the magnitude of what he was involved with, I’d agree it does seem surprising.

  7. Good work Joe. As always you have all the latest news.
    As stated on James’ Blog yesteday. Williams are still very strongly supported & are many peoples # 2 team to follow. I have been big fan of Williams since around 1978 & until recently lived very close to both their old Didcot premises & also their newer Grove facility.
    For the last 8 years I have become more & more disillusioned with them & on several times I have thought that Sir Frank had lost his mind after seeing some of his decisions.
    Each year we see the strong pre season testing form followed by disappointing race results. This isn’t all down to being a private team.
    Moving on I am not sure that having two key people resign but not leave until the end of the year is a good way to keep moral up.
    Also employing someone with the shady past of Mr C isn’t good either for a team that is known & has an image of being a very clean, sporting almost family friendly team.

  8. Joe, Can you envisage either Sam Michael or Jon Tomlinson turning up somewhere else further down the grid in the near future?

  9. My real sense of this is that Sam Michael should never have been appointed by Frank and Patrick. The team’s demise, for a multitude of issues, certainly began around the same time, but it is difficult to pin the blame on one individual. However, that being said, I think that the situation that exists at Williams now is really down to both Frank and Patrick being driven people who excel at their own strengths and perhaps lack in other areas. I remain highly uncertain as to whether Adam Parr is the right person to lead the team into its next iteration. I have never rated Sam Michael and think that Parr should resign too…

  10. What did I say only a few weeks ago? Sam Michael has been a thorn in Williams’ side since he was made technical director years ago.
    He also mismanaged JPM, remember the French GP 2003 I think?
    Best thing Williams could have done, congrats to them finally.

  11. Sam Micheal’s been there for 10 years? That’s made me feel like I’m getting old! Bit of a shame to see him go, but it’s clear the team needs a shake up.

    I’m not sure about the choice of Coughlan. I have no beef regards to spy-gate, he’s served his punishment, but he’s been out of the game for a few years and I’m don’t know how much that will effect his abilities to move Williams back up the grid. That said, there’s nobody better who springs to my (limited) mind

  12. A few months ago you posted about how appalled you were at people still wanting to associate themselves with the likes of Flavio B after having done the thing he did, I have to say that I agreed whole heartedly with you and I am very surprised and disappointed at Williams.

    Coughlan’s actions were inexcusable and unforgivable, people capable of doing such things don’t change all of a sudden as a full grown adult you just dont “grow” principles all of a sudden, you either have them or you dont! … and he clearly doesnt.

    It is very odd that a team with such a legacy and reputation would be willing to associate themselves with unsavory characters such as Coughlan, especially since they are a publicly traded company, one would imagine that bringing this person in does not exactly inspire confidence in the minds of investors.

    1. 6 wheeled Tyrell

      I think the word desperation leaps to mind. Coughlan was available and experienced. Few others are. My feeling is that this is only one step and that other things will happen…

  13. I’d have to say that having served a 2 year ban, Mike C should be given the chance to earn a living…however I think it would have been more prudent to give him a lower key role at first (to get the grid used to the idea of him being back).

    Totally agree that he’s a rare commodity, being available and reasonably up-to-date. But Williams will have to tread carefully as although what they’ve done is legal etc it will leave a bad taste.

    I hope they quickly announce other appointments to dilute the news….and wish them well with the new team they form.

    You can’t punsih people forever…Williams have waited till well after the ban elapsed to add him to the team.

  14. It seems odd timing given that Sam Michael acquired something over 1% of Williams’ shares in the recent flotation. Clearly the team has never reached its potential with him as Technical Director so his tenure had to be limited so why give him shares?

    Reading some of the other statements put out today it seems clear that if Coughlan produces a good car next year he will become Technical Director.

  15. desperation is right, how often do people get to post date their resignations, surely if Sam Michael doesnt think hes doing a good enough job now, why wait till the end of the season, what is there to see through if this season has effectively being written off ?

    also how do the team operate with two technical chiefs (and a new chief engineer) or two aerodynamicists, whose view takes precedance, how does development get done, how will the team protect its 2012 IP etc etc.

    and then there is Patrick Head denying the retirement rumours, though Im sure it said in the share prospectus he was quitting this year.

    all very odd.

    as for Coughlan, well he served the time and its a very motorsport type of solution, whether hes the right guy to lead a renaissance of Williams is another matter, 7th seasons without a win, 3rd without a podium, Williams really are in the wilderness

  16. @6 wheeled tyrell – While I fully agree with you on Flavio Briatore issue and genuinely feel that the Italian’s dual role that of team-boss and Piquet Jr’s manager resulted in Piquet Jr doing what he did under duress and as such Flavio should be banned from F1 for life.

    In case of Spygate and McLaren, by same token the ultimate responsibility was at the door of the then team boss Ron Dennis. He didn’t do due diligence and due care. If indeed as he claims the spygate was about few errant individuals in McLaren doing things on their own, he is admitting that there is no management oversight in place, the matter should have been notified to authorities as soon as Coughlan shared the information he had acquired through Stepney. There is clear indication that McLaren staff at all levels knew what was happening in Ferrari, since McLaren had successfully tipped off FIA on illegal floor thanks to information provided by Stepney.

    So if Coughlan was reported by the McLaren Management(Dennis), Ron’s claim of “few individuals doing things on their own” made sense. Rather per the claim Coughlan was reprimanded and let go and the matter became public only after Kinko’s staff brought it to attention of Ferrari.
    So there are lots of holes in McLaren’s defense there.
    Management not reporting irregularity is bigger offense.

    Giving equivalent of Corporate world, ultimately C-level executives are held responsible for any irregularity in their corporate practices.

    Ultimately even in that case the team boss should have been banned for life like in Flavio’s case. But the matter was closed with monetary fine to Management and the punishment to engineer who as it seems now was made to do the dirty work by the management.

    So Coughlan coming back is honestly not bad, he was caught, punished by regulatory body and now that his punishment is over, if other team/employer is willing to give him second chance at their own risk, why not?

  17. Joe,
    any idea where Sam Michael might end up? And when would he be allowed to (offically) take up a new position after his departure from Williams -6 months, one year?

    1. Senna lover

      If his contract at Williams ends at the end of the year, he is free to join another team then.

  18. Conway & Another Jon,

    and Hi to you both, especially Conway, for, erm, not exhausting our spellings!

    no evidence for this, but i sensed that Stepney not only was cold shouldered, but kind of put himself out of circulation as well. You guys got any take on that? Just because i haven’t even heard of him dabbling in small partially recognised ex civil war zones lately.

    . . .


    i agree with your argument, the Tribe Elders ought to take more falls. Except naturally, they got there by not taking falls, a human thing . .

    As to company law, it’s an interesting consideration as to when an employee acts with the full faith of the company. I used to be up on this enough (up my own, i assure you), to add a clause under the signature with references to the pertinent statutes, so they could not but know they were asserting they could bind their company, no wiggle room, because if they were fibbing, that’s them on the hook.

    Now, that my customer list is very short, I’ve forgotten all that fiddling. All i can say, is that when you sell an ad direct to a customer, agencies tend to get jealous, and push all manner of departments to threaten all sorts of quite legal bother, so as to up the agency vig. Happens sadly most often to the most reputable of firms (stats dint of the frequency of their deals, got insufficient data to say if there’s a skew, just well, more things go on in big outfits).

    Reason is, the agencies aren’t confident in their pricing. But can you price an advert, or anyone? My pitch is pure bucket shop: if i can cut the pape and burocrisy (deliberate), i can sell cheap. (Oh, and i’ll buy back or reverse instead of charging the insane 50% “cancellation fees” that still seem to be there) I’ll not go further, but if you have your own money in the game, you can take a haircut, time to time, and it’s very very good to be able to eat a loss if you otherwise would have to play some BS line because of what i call denial politics when you boo boo.

    That would be merely me puffing my chest, except i could never ever do that under most employment contracts, i would not have the snap decision. Organised markets e.g. in finance sort this with fat “global” contracts and blackball you in theory if you step outside the thin grey line too often. What any sane company wants to do is eradicate the funny ones, the wild choices, the gambits. The chance for self flattery on a salary with full indemnification. Not trading on their money. So, back on the subject, it’s hard to prove that anything other than the run of mill twill is what the company wants to buy. Your proverbial “fraudster” is technically out on a limb before he opens his supposedly conspiratorial mouth.

    Oops, well off piste in parts there, hope it hung in enough, but i tell ya, when people find out i’m a actual partner, with my house on the line, i get treated so much better.

    The executive you are not looking for, is called a duly authorized person, which has specific meaning. Say someone fluffed a deal and mawsed it up, well, theoretically there is a bunch more than just an employment contract that defines that circumstance.

    Because it opens a can of worms (big argument here for having fewer rather than more customers, in my book, but i’m a parochial sod) big companies deploy awesome amounts of boiler plate to plausibly deny any such due authorization any which way, as i stabbed at illustrating. It’s not so much to protect the big cheeses (though it does, neat, eh?) as to prevent spivs like me from canning deals on the offchance 🙂

    SOX and other laws bring it closer in quoted corps. From your name, i guess you know the process the Italian courts put Frank and Patrick through on an entirely incomparable but understandable concern.

    Wonderful old pal, dearly missed but for the good reasons like new family, does this awful international arbitration thing, in Paris. (the sorting out who said what where and why) Tedium, i am reassured, very very well paid tedium! (keep playing Sax, Al!)

    There was, when i last asked the Registrar (real person, who you can actually speak to) some 3 million directors in the UK. Many of those are naturally directors of many other companies, though the median may be 2.5 or somesuch. The in joke is that only a few thousand, in fairly prominent outfits, even know that they have an effective employment contract by dint of being a director, courtesy of the acts, without doing anything than fill the blanks. Believe it or not, that means the directors can in extremis, refer to objectives, table A’s, all sorts to prove they were not acting for the company, so eff off and try a private suit, which would hit companies court first before normal claim (read, silly bother). Yup, that’s in joke sick humour. Outside of really big companies, i think i have met only a few who ever read up on their job, and they were in trouble.

    . . .

    But really, personally, it should be absolute that a director or partner takes a penalty, if not a fall. I strongly believe this. The other in joke, Cardiff way, is that, they being merely a records office, their job is to promote company creation. Nice line when you get inelligable directors on their umpteenth bankruptcy, but up to you to check ’em out. Just even for this, and people who use too many middle names in the wrong order, i thank the intrusive databases regularly.

    By the by, in a partnership formed under the 1907 LP act, if one partner goes forth, he alone is taking the hit if it goes wrong. There’s a good consultation paper about the rest you can easily find, if this intrigues you.

    That’s a very positive and not negative thing. I scored some neat deals i knew my partners thought plain dumb and nix if i told them, but if my silliness went down to the depths, was only me on the line, if they went up, we all share, no special treatment. Try building trust like that in a limited company. Yup, i lost a bunch too, but fair and square, no shareholders or partners hurt in the making.

    The equitable quid pro quo, in a limited company is follow the rules and you are protected from loss greater than your shares. It falls down rather, on most shares having no value, and those cynical jokes about law being read by directors.

    Bear in mind, much of european civilisation was built by partnerships, or partnership shares in vessels, only government taking the “no recourse” risks. I think the situation is beyond ripe for reform.

    Because of diversions,

    i hope this is of relevance for F1, at least Williams, because though i’d stand to loose hardly a sausage, i really hope the legal implacability which goes hand in hand with becoming a public firm, surrounded by legal advisers, potentially false sense of security, does not lend to any of their directors, the idea they are unassailable if they get the wrong guys.

    Meanwhile, i’ll take their longer track record, and sell if ever the cost of doing so doesn’t eat my profit*. Just not in a hurry, much to come, i think and hope.**

    cheers all,

    – j

    *no advice here about nuffin, just noting i like to set a mark where i will sell, cos it does pay to sell, even if you’re lossing sometimes, jam today style 🙂

    oh, yeah, i think the mark i have is about a week of really good breakfasts in the nice new but rather posh caff with a garden which opened across my road, so i’m talking peanuts anyhow!

    ** “sure and certain hope” says this catholic 🙂

  19. Joe and Senna lover,

    so he goes early, to his shed in the garden?

    Or will it be a “no release”, because that’s probably by the book also, and why would Frank think anyone wants who he doesn’t?

    I’m arguing how FW might say to someone who does want Sam, to which you could cynically add, in that pointed canny voice “but you can have the same experience at Fortnums.” – just playing Devil’s here.

    OK, sorry, my thoughts are a big stretch, but i’m not being funny at all when i say i think his broadcast persona is really really very impressive. What i mean, is that maybe no gardening required, he can slip into another team socially on a presentational gig, until he’s allowed to play with the toys. My impression is he’s so personable, and clearly knowledgable, he’d be great to listen to – as a fan – much more often. Not ‘orrible pay, either, in a good spot. Ya hearing me James and Rupe? Joe, go sign him quick! 🙂

    On second thoughts, because i just always got such a nice (remotely observed f) vibe from Sam Michael, does that take away something elementary, convivial, sociable, subtle, from the team mix which without, they will not have someone to calm the waters? I rate and respect the guy’s characterrom afar, and am in no place to comment on his racing chops.

    – j

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