Coughlan appointed chief engineer at Williams

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The Independent Online

Williams today defended their decision to hand Mike Coughlan a route back into Formula One after appointing him chief engineer as part of a wider shake-up following the worst start to a season in the team's history.

In 2007, then serving as McLaren's chief designer, Coughlan was at the heart of the 'spygate' saga after being caught in possession of secret technical information belonging to Ferrari.

Coughlan was initially suspended and then released by McLaren, who were eventually hammered by the FIA's World Motor Sport Council to the tune of $100 million - £49.2million at the time.

The 52-year-old was handed a two-year suspension from F1, and only avoided legal proceedings in Italy after agreeing in February 2009 to pay 180,000 euros (£158,000).

Williams chairman Adam Parr feels Coughlan has been punished enough and is deserving of a second chance.

Speaking to Press Association Sport, Parr said: "If someone is given a two-year penalty, but then you turn around and say it means for life then that is just wrong.

"People make mistakes, very serious mistakes in his case, but he has acknowledged it and he has served a very severe penalty.

"It was not just being unable to continue in a particular job - it was the whole experience of being humbled.

"When you are in the position he was in as the chief designer at McLaren, and suddenly every aspect of you and your life are grounds for public criticism, then it is an experience.

"It was not just the ban, but everything that went with it, the whole affair.

"He has been severely punished and served his time, and now it is time for him to move forward."

Parr has admitted to speaking with Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali about the matter, but refused to be drawn on whether the Italian also felt it was now a case of letting bygones be bygones.

"I called Stefano to explain to him what we are doing, and we spoke about it," added Parr.

"It was a necessary courtesy, but I don't want to put words into his mouth. Stefano and I have a very good relationship, and he is an exceptionally courteous and thoughtful person."

With technical director Sam Michael and chief aerodynamicist Jon Tomlinson resigning, albeit continuing in their positions until the end of the season, Parr believes Coughlan will prove his worth.

"He is a very good combination of things: first of all tremendous experience," said Parr.

"The guy has worked in Formula One for most of his career and has tremendous training in engineering, and has been a technical director, as well as a chief designer in the past.

"Secondly, he has very impressive focus on engineering and its processes, standards and rigour, and that discipline is at the heart of a Formula One team. We just don't have that at the moment.

"Thirdly, he brings passion, energy and drive. He has always been a driven man, and he has always loved the competition of Formula One and bringing his engineering skills to that.

"But now there is a whole other dimension in that he wants to get back in and prove himself, and that involves bringing Williams back to the front of the grid."

Parr has admitted to even tendering his own resignation, only for that to be flatly refused by the three main shareholders in Frank Williams, Toto Wolff and Patrick Head, who will be retiring at the end of the year.

Williams have so far failed to take a point from the opening three races, with drivers Rubens Barrichello and rookie Pastor Maldonado both retiring in Australia and Malaysia, before finishing 13th and 18th respectively in the last outing in China.

"The start we have had has been very obviously bad, but also surprising," said Parr.

"We just did not see this coming, and that in itself is something we have to understand.

"We are a team who wants to be winning world championships, and we haven't done that since 1997.

"Fundamentally as a team, I don't believe we have been doing the right things for over a decade.

"Therefore we are always asking ourselves 'What can we do better? What can we do differently?'

"We thought after recovering well last year we would come into this year stronger and take another step forward of some degree.

"When that didn't happen we all said 'Hang on, this is a wake-up call'.

"So we must, and we will, get this year's car back on track. That is our first priority, and that is what we are focusing on at the moment."