Mike Coughlan’s return to the top of his game in Formula One is nothing short of scandalous, according to Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo.
The Briton was at the centre of the 2007 espionage scandal, sacked as McLaren’s chief designer and banned from formula one for receiving reams of secret technical information from a rogue Ferrari employee. He worked subsequently with the abortive Stefan GP team and also designed the Ocelot armoured vehicle before heading to NASCAR with Michael Waltrip Racing.
Earlier this year he returned to F1 as Williams’ new factory-based chief engineer, but team chairman Adam Parr quietly announced in India recently that Coughlan is already “our new technical director”.
“Coughlan’s return is a scandal,” Ferrari’s Montezemolo told Italy’s La Stampa newspaper. “It seems F1 never misses an opportunity to make a fool of itself.”
According to the Spanish sports daily Marca, an unnamed paddock source does not agree.
“‘Spygate’ was just a political war between Max Mosley and Ron Dennis, because everyone knows that information is swapping between F1 teams all the time.”
A separate question is whether Coughlan is the best replacement for his Williams predecessor Sam Michael, who will appear on the McLaren race team for the first time this weekend in Abu Dhabi.
“He (Coughlan) is a good designer,” said the Marca source, “but on the mechanical side.
“The aerodynamic aspect is not his forte, but of course, with Williams astray, there was no one better available,” he added.
As for Coughlan’s spying days in possession of secret Ferrari data in photocopy shops, the 52-year-old insists he has changed since 2007.
“Leaving a team and a sport that I love, and then seeing the consequences of my actions on the team and its fans was devastating,” he said. “All I can do now is work hard and try to earn my place back in Formula One. I can only hope that I can earn back everyone’s respect.”