Coughlan leaves NASCAR for F1

Mike Coughlan, the Formula One designer at the heart of the 2007 spy scandal, will return to the sport in June to head an overhaul of the Williams team’s technical department.

Williams said Tuesday that Coughlan will join it as chief engineer as part of the British outfit’s initiative to boost a team that won the last of its nine constructors’ titles in 1997 and has yet to pick up a point from three races in this season’s championship.

Coughlan has not worked in F1 since he was fired as McLaren’s chief designer and banned for two years for his part in one of racing’s biggest ever scandals.

McLaren was fined a record $100 million and disqualified from the 2007 constructors’ championship after a 780-page technical dossier on rival Ferrari cars was found at Coughlan’s home.

”He left Formula One in 2007 because of conduct, which he acknowledges was wrong and which he profoundly regrets,” Williams team principal Frank Williams said. ”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.”

Since his ban, Coughlan helped develop an armored military patrol vehicle and has been working for NASCAR’s Michael Waltrip Racing.

”My experience in 2007 was life-changing,” Coughlan said. ”Since then, I have endeavored to put my skills to good use.

”Now I am looking forward to returning to a sport which I love and to joining a team that I have admired for many years. I will dedicate myself to the team and to ensuring that we return to competitiveness while respecting the ethical standards with which Williams has always been synonymous.”

Williams is F1’s third-most successful team after Ferrari and McLaren with seven drivers’ titles, nine constructors’ championships and 113 victories in 565 races.

But its last championship came in 1997 and it hasn’t won a Grand Prix since 2004. It finished sixth in the constructors’ championship last season.

Williams said technical director Sam Michael and chief aerodynamicist Jon Tomlinson had agreed to quit, effective the end of this year, as part of the reshuffle.

”Both Sam and Jon are talented and driven people who have worked hard for Williams over 10 and five years respectively,” Williams said. ”Nonetheless, they have recognized 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.”