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Williams Management in Disarray?

Willliams Tech Director Sam Michael

The Williams team has gotten off to a shaky start this year, and now it appears that the team’s management team is completely unraveling.   It was announced this week that the team’s technical director and chief aerodynamicist, Sam Michael and Jon Tomlinson, respectively, would resign from the team at the end of this season.

Moreover, waiting in the wings is former McLaren chief engineer Mike Coughlan, who was disgraced in 2007 for for his involvement in the Spygate scandal (occasioned by McLaren’s being caught having their grubby hands in the technical cookie jar, which is to say they were in full possession of Ferrari’s 700 page technical playbook for that season).

Coughlan was banned from the sport for two years, but his sentence has elapsed, and he’s free once again to work for any team that will have him. Couaghlin was chief engineer at McLaren, and it seems as though he’ll occupy a similar position at Williams.

Team principle Frank Williams told ESPN in the wake of the announcement,  “Both Sam and Jon are talented and driven people who have worked hard for Williams over ten and five years respectively.  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 to get back to the front of the grid.”

But that’s not all.  Williams CEO Adam Parr also announced that Patrick Head, one of the team’s founders, would be retiring.  (Side note: Parr also offered to resign, himself.  It seems to be catching.)  Head was the technical director for the team during their hey day in the 1990s, but he has taken more of a background role in recent years.  Moreover, Williams recently floated shares of their stock on the Frankfurt (really?) stock exchange.

It turns out that the shares were Head’s.  Is he getting out while the getting’s good?  Frank Williams says that the stock flotation will help guarantee the longevity of the team.  It sounds to me more like a retiring business owner’s effort to cash in his chips before he slinks off to that time share in Tenerife, Spain.

But there’s more.  It seems that Parr’s announcement wasn’t official, and Patrick Head takes issue with it.  Parr said at a press conference, “Patrick has made it clear that he will be retiring this year, so at some point this year that will happen.  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.”

Head responded by telling The Guardian, “What you are telling me is news to me. I wasn’t aware that Adam had said that.  He wasn’t in a position to make that statement. My plans are not in the public domain and they will only be when I make my own statement later in the year.”

Sam Williams, and others at the team, are trying to put a good face on it, by implying that they’ll be going through a rebuiding phase, but “rebuilding” tends to be code for, “The car is a dog, the team is a mess, and we’ve tried everything else we could think of, so now it’s time to start firing people.”

Sam Michael claims the team has many upgrades in the pipeline, and he’s vowed to put the car on a solid platform for next season, when, for better or worse, the team will be staffed by a number of new key technical personnel.  Stey tuned for further developments.

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