McLaren spy-scandal engineer back in F-1

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:56 PM ET

Formula One's Williams Cosworth team has begun its battle back to relevance in the world's top open wheel racing series by accepting the resignation of technical director Sam Michael and chief aerodynamicist Jon Tomlinson.

Frank Williams said both will leave the team at the end of the current F-1 campaign.

And in a surprising move Williams announced it had hired former McLaren engineering boss Mike Coughlan as chief engineer.

Coughlan was bounced from F-1 in 2007 for his role in the spy scandal that engulfed the McLaren team over stolen blue prints from the Ferrari team.

Since that time Coughlan has worked as an engineer for Michael Waltrip Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Williams said the team's poor start to the 2011 season -- it sits in 10th spot in the constructor's championship with no points after four Grand Prixs -- was the primary reason for the changes.

"Both Sam and Jon are talented and driven people who have worked hard for Williams over 10 and five years respectively," Williams said in a team statement. "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."

Williams said Coughlan has paid dearly for his conduct in the McLaren-Ferrari scandal. But it was time to forgive and forget.

"He left F-1 in 2007 because of conduct which he acknowledges was wrong and which he profoundly regrets," 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."

As for Coughlan, he said he is thankful to be back in F-1.

"I am grateful to Williams for giving me this opportunity," he said. "My experience in 2007 was life-changing. I have also enjoyed my time with Michael Waltrip Racing: they are an excellent race team and I wish them well for the future."

HONDA BACKS TRACY

The stage, so to speak, has been set for Paul Tracy to run both the Honda Indy Toronto and Edmonton Indy this season after Honda announced Tuesday that it will back the West Hill, Ont., native in both Canadian events.

Honda executive vice-president Jerry Chenkin said Tracy will drive the No. 8 Make-A-Wish Dragon Racing Honda Dallara.

Chenkin said Honda -- as it has the past two seasons -- will partner with Make-A-Wish Canada to raise funds for the charity leading up to and during the two races.

"At Honda, we believe in 'The Power of Dreams' as a way of thinking that drives us forward and is based on the visionary principles of our founder, Soichiro Honda," Chenkin said.

He said Honda Canada will match all donations to Make-A-Wish, dollar-for-dollar.

"Last year, more than $112,000 was raised in support of Make-A-Wish Canada, and the team is committed to surpassing that amount in 2011," he said.

Tracy is looking forward to racing at his home track in Toronto and in Edmonton.

"I'm excited to be back and to show the fans what I've got," Tracy said. "It's important for me to partner with Honda Canada, without which my support of Make-A-Wish Canada would not be possible."

FINISH LINES

Jeff Gordon's crash Saturday into a part of Richmond International Raceway that's without a SAFER barrier left the four-time NASCAR champ dazed. But it could result in such a barrier being put into place at that spot according to RIR officials who are now studying the matter. ... Maryeve Dufault of Sorel, Que., continued her stock car oval apprenticeship in the No. 12 Dodge Motorsports Dodge on the weekend with a 13th place finish at the ARCA Series Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 in Salem, Indiana. . ... Quebec's Rémy Audette, the F2000 championship points leader, will compete this weekend at Road Atlanta in the second double header of the 2011 season. He won the first at Virginia International Raceway in the Dimensions Doors/Novatech Van Diemen.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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