JUNE 22, 2005
Gunther Schmid, the owner of two different Formula 1 teams in the 1970s and 1980s, has died from a brain tumour. Schmid was originally a driver, competing in Formula Vee in the early 1970s but spending most of his time building up the ATS Wheels business with his partner Erich Stahlschmidt. This was one of the first companies to mass-produce light alloy wheels and in 1972 signed a deal to supply its wheels to Porsche. Other manufacturer deals followed and ATS Wheels boomed. The success made Schmid and Stahlschmidt into wealthy men and at the end of 1976 Schmid bought the assets of the Penske F1 team. The re-liveried Penske 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 for 1978. 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. The team continued although the need for sponsorship became more important. ATS survived through this difficult period and in 1983 Schmid managed to secure a supply of BMW turbo engines, the Brunner-designed D6 chassis 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.
When BMW refused to continue supplying the team in 1985 and Schmid finally decided to close the operation.
Schmid later 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 he 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". Andrea de Cesaris was hired to drive and ran as high as sixth in the first race in Brazil. Brunner moved to Zakspeed soon afterwards but de Cesaris finished fourth in Detroit and Rial was ninth in the Constructors' Championship that year. Things did not go well in 1989 and at the end of the year, unable to find more money, Schmid closed down his second F1 team.
Schmid was often a controversial figure, and could become outraged and was famous for assaulting his own cars, but he could be utterly charming and great company as well.
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