PEOPLE: GUNTHER SCHMID
Name: Gunther Schmid
Gunther Schmid and his partner Erich Stahlschmidt were pioneers in the manufacture of light alloy wheels in the late early 1970s. Originally the wheels were made by sand-casting but the business boomed when new processes were developed to mass-produce cast aluminium wheels. In 1972 they established a factory in Bad Durkheim and soon gained a reputation for high quality wheels and signed a deal to supply Porsche. Other major manufacturers followed and the business boomed.
Schmid had been a driver himself in Formula Vee and even won a race at Hockenheim in 1972 but as the business boomed he stopped competing to concentrate on building up the ATS brand. The success made both men wealthy and Schmid was keen to go racing and at the end of 1976 he bought the assets of the Penske F1 team. The re-liveried PC4s first appeared in F1 at Long Beach in 1977 with Jean-Pierre Jarier driving. The team had a moderate season and at the end of the year Schmid bought the assets of the March F1 team and Robin Herd and John Gentry reworked the old Penskes again but these were not very successful either and Gentry then built the first ATS chassis - the D1. In 1979 there were new versions of the car but it was not until Gustav Brunner designed the D4 in 1980 that the team began to show well, notably in Long Beach were Jan Lammers qualified fourth. The F1 programme was expensive and at the end of that season Schmid and Stahlschmidt fell out over the costs involved but the team continued although the need for sponsorship became more important. The team survived through this difficult period and in 1983 Schmid managed to secure a supply of BMW turbo engines. The D6 chassis was built by Brunner and the car was innovative and quite successful but reliability was poor although at the end of 1984 Gerhard Berger joined the team and finished sixth at Monza. BMW refused to continue the supply in 1985 and Schmid finally decided to close the team.
It was not long before Schmid sold his ATS shares and bought into a rival company called RIAL Leichtmetallfelgen GmbH, another of the pioneers of the alloy wheel business. Once again Schmid decided to use F1 to raise the profile of the company and a new F1 team was established in 1988 in the town of Fussgonheim, just a couple of miles from the ATS factory. Brunner was called back and produced the Rial-Cosworth ARC1, which was immediately dubbed "the little blue Ferrari" because of its ressemblance to the Ferrari. Andrea de Cesaris was hired to drive and ran as high as sixth in the first race in Brazil. Brunner did not stay ong as joined Zakspeed soon afterwards but de Cesrais finished fourth in Detroit and Rial was ninth in the Constructors' Championship that year. But things did not go well in 1989 and at the end of the year, unable to find money, Schmid closed down his second F1 team.
The Rial business is now run by his son Ralf who races Caterhams in his spare time.