Rial

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Last updated: 25-April-2003


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• Explosive Gunther starts off in F1 with ATS
The art of being a successful team Formula One team boss is not an easy one to master. You need to be firm enough to exert your authority over the different elements of your team and the squabbles they may have. Alain Prost showed us exactly how not to do it. But you also need to earn the respect of the people around you. Enzo Ferrari, Flavio Briatore and Eddie Jordan did it by being charismatic; Bernie Ecclestone, Ron Dennis and Frank Williams did it by being determined and focussed; Jackie Stewart did it by being something of a father figure.

But some over the years have taken firmness to the point of autocracy, which when matched with an explosive temperament made for, shall we say, a very interesting team atmosphere. Guy Ligier was someone famous for throwing wobblies and blaming everyone and anyone when things weren't going right for his team - which was basically the entire 1980s. The epithet 'volatile' has sometimes been used to describe him. But it could also have equally applied to the man in charge of the team we're looking at here, German wheel magnate Hans Gunther Schmid.

To borrow a phrase, there must have been some method in Schmid's madness, because coming out of the town of Bad Durkheim he had turned himself into a millionaire through his ATS alloy wheel business. Although he himself raced briefly in the early 1970s, he turned his hand to team ownership when Penske abruptly pulled out of F1 and Schmid bought the cars. In their early years, using the old Penske and subsequently their own designs, ATS struggled for good finishes, let alone points, the highlight being Jan Lammers' 4th on the grid at Long Beach in 1980.

Even during the ATS years, Schmid had shown a flair for instability. The team had gone through a succession of drivers, and hardly any engineer came up with more than one design. There had also been management rows, notably when Jo Ramirez, who would later achieve fame as one of McLaren's long-time managers, walked out when Schmid decided to dump Lammers four races into the 1981 season in favour of Slim Borgudd. In his own business dealings, Schmid had quarrelled and split with his ATS Wheels partner at the start of 1981 anyway, and there were question marks over the team's survival.

ATS makes its F1 debut at the 1978 Argentine Grand Prix. ATS makes its F1 debut at the 1978 Argentine Grand Prix, with Jarier and Mass driving.
• Rial comes together: Brunner, Marlboro, the F1/87
But survive ATS did, and for 1983 they actually got hold of BMW turbo engines. The D6, designed by Gustav Brunner (who had also penned the 1980 car, the D4), proved to be quick but unreliable at the hands of Manfred Winkelhock. Brunner then came up with the D7 for 1984, once again departed from the team, and it was left to Stefan Fober to develop the machine. By the end of that season, though, BMW decided not to continue the engine supply into 1985, and Schmid closed the doors on ATS. Indeed, he even sold his stake in ATS Wheels, buying into the rival Rial Wheels company instead.

The history of ATS, however, would eventually give new meaning to the phrase 'everything old is new again' when Schmid re-entered Grand Prix racing in 1988 with another team named, surprise surprise, after his wheel company. With the regulations for 1989 set to ban turbo engines, and with many teams going non-aspirated for 1988 anyway, it seemed a good time for Rial to join the ranks. The team sensibly opted for a one-car assault on the 1988 World Championship, and secured a deal to run Cosworth DFZ motors prepared by the well-known Swiss engine tuner, Heini Mader.

Better still, Schmid managed to lure back Brunner to design the car, which was no mean feat considering that the talented draughtsman had penned the Ferrari F1/87 which had won the last two races of 1987. From the team's base at Fussgonheim near Ludwishafen in Germany, Brunner produced the Rial ARC1. On the outside, the car had noticeable similarities to the Ferrari F1/87, and hence was dubbed 'The Blue Ferrari'. It featured a double wishbone pullrod front suspension with the shock absorbers creatively placed horizontally along the lower edge of the chassis hull.

The wheels were driven through a Rial-Hewland gearbox, and another temperamental personality, Andrea de Cesaris, was signed to drive. The Italian brought with him his reputation for accidents, but also his Marlboro backing which came in very handy. Pre-season testing times were extremely promising, although this may have had something to do with the ARC1's ultra-small fuel tank, a rather uncharacteristic (or perhaps deliberate) oversight by Brunner that left pundits wondering whether or not the Rial could even make it to the end of a Grand Prix.

Andrea de Cesaris goes testing pre-season 1988. Andrea de Cesaris goes testing pre-season 1988.
• Welcome to the pre-qualifying lottery
When the 1988 season finally got under way in Rio de Janeiro, Rial found itself on the wrong side of officialdom right from the green light. With the number of entries beginning to swell, Rial was forced to join Dallara, Coloni and EuroBrun in pre-qualifying, although this never once presented de Cesaris with any problems. It was clear that the ARC1 was quite a nimble package, but reliability was a bugbear. When the car stopped on the track in practice, and the Rial mechanics illegally fixed it on the spot, stewards slapped the team with a US$5,000 fine.

Eventually the car qualified a fine 14th, and in the race ran as high as 6th, but the engine gave way after 53 laps. The baptism of fire continued at Imola, where de Cesaris wrote one car off after a crash on Friday after setting a time that eventually put him 16th on the grid. The spare was finally built up by Sunday morning, but within a few laps its front top wishbone pick-up point both bent and cracked. Further fixing meant the car had to start the race from pit lane, but within one lap the repairs had broken, and the suspension failure put the Rial out on the spot.

The high jinks only multiplied at Monaco. There de Cesaris started a lowly 19th and retired after 28 laps with another engine failure, having typically incurred the ire of the leaders by holding them up. But this was after he had written off another car in practice when he crashed into Gerhard Berger's spinning Ferrari inside the tunnel. The Italian promised to cover the repair bills himself, but claimed that there had been no yellow flags. When video replays showed that there clearly had been, a sheepish Andrea had to change his story, but stewards fined him US$5,000 for his less-then-honest attitude.

Then, when he stopped on the track with a flat battery on Saturday, showing that they had not learnt their lessons from Brazil, the team sent mechanics out to change it. Since this was the second time in three races that the team had breached the regulations, the fine was increased to US$15,000. Besides, there were rumblings that the ARC1 was illegal anyway: the rules stated, for obvious safety reasons in the case of a rollover, that the driver's helmet had to be beneath an imaginary line from the roll cage to the front of the cockpit, and de Cesaris' head was clearly above such a line.

Going my way? At Monaco, de Cesaris apparently wasn't. Going my way? At Monaco, de Cesaris apparently wasn't.
• On the lookout for points, before success in the US
To top things off, it was rumoured that Brunner was unhappy that the team had not paid him, and was set to move to rival German team Zakspeed. He didn't - not yet at least - and promptly altered the ARC1 to meet the rules. And with more than their fair share of drama over the first three races, the team could finally knuckle down to doing some development work on the car. In Mexico, de Cesaris qualified a mighty 12th, ahead of both non-turbo Williams, and was challenging the Benettons for the honour of being the best normally aspirated runner in the race when he retired with transmission failure.

Then in Canada, after another 12th in qualifying, Andrea found himself battling with Nelson Piquet's Lotus and Philippe Streiff's AGS for 4th position, but stopped, out of fuel, when looking safe for 5th at least. That he was eventually classified 9th was little consolation to the team, which was now looking more impressive race by race. Yet points were just around the corner, when in a race of attrition in Detroit the Rial moved up to 4th by lap 27 and stayed there for the remaining 36 laps, finally finishing a lap down, but picking up three valuable points.

There may have been more in France had de Cesaris not been delayed in the pits after the air guns jammed. But from here Rial's season began to slide. The ARC1 slid down the grid in qualifying, as low as 23rd at Jerez, and the reliability woes were never completely cured. There were transmission problems in Britain and Portugal, a CV joint mishap in Hungary, engine failures in Spain and Japan, collisions with Rene Arnoux in Belgium and with Luis Perez Sala in Portugal which caused the first start to be aborted, and de Cesaris' retirement at Monza was also caused by accident damage.

The Rial had seen the flag in 13th place on home soil in Germany, and although it was classified 8th in Australia, it had once again stopped on the side of the track having run its fuel tank dry. The team had simply failed to keep up its early-season promise, although Brunner's inevitable departure for Zakspeed, which finally came after Hockenheim, may have had quite a major effect. Well before the 1988 season was over, Schmid was already getting his 1989 package in place, with rumours that the team would be an all-German affair.

Andrea finished 4 races out of 5, then racked up 6 DNFs in a row in 1988. Andrea finished 4 races out of 5, then racked up 6 DNFs in a row in 1988.
• All-Deutsch assault: Schmid, Danner, Weidler, Fober
In truth, however, it was a shame that the ARC1 didn't reach its full potential. Reliability was a season-long problem, but speed-wise there wasn't too much wrong. Five times the Rial started 12th, and ten times out of 16 races de Cesaris was either the 4th, 5th, 6th or 7th fastest non-turbo in qualifying. Behind the Benettons, Marches and Williams, the Rial fought with the likes of Alex Caffi's Dallara, the Larrousses, the Minardis, Streiff's AGS and Jonathan Palmer's Tyrrell for the honour of being the fourth best non-turbo team, and on a results-per-car basis, there was reason to suggest that Rial achieved that rank.

Regardless, three points from Detroit and 9th in the constructors' championship was a decent enough springboard into 1989, when indeed Schmid turned up with an all-German team. Rial had expanded to two cars, but de Cesaris had moved to Dallara. In came Christian Danner, with Volker Weidler in the other car. And, just as he had followed in Brunner's footsteps in 1984, Stefan Fober returned to the fold, joining aerodynamicist Bob Bell to rework the ARC1. The result was the clean-looking ARC2, powered by a Mader-tuned Cosworth DFR, and still with the Rial-Hewland gearbox.

The car came in a long and short-wheelbase version, the latter to be used on tighter tracks. Although Pirelli had entered the fray, the team stuck with Goodyear rubber. The Detroit performance from the previous year saved Danner's car from pre-qualifying, but newcomer Weidler was thrust into the lottery for the first half of the season at least. And to put it mildly, at no time did he look as though he was in his element in F1, his best being 7th quickest in France when only the top four went through into the main qualifying session. Never did Volker remotely look as though he would achieve that feat.

Danner, though, fared somewhat better. The ARC2 being no more than a revamped ARC1, it was rather less new than its competitors in Brazil. Christian qualified comfortably in 17th, and was classified 14th despite stopping with a gearbox failure five laps from the end. But other teams quickly got their act together, and Rial found themselves progressively off the pace. Danner failed to qualify at Imola when firstly his clutch failed on his race car, and then the radio pack fell down onto his pedals in his spare. It was a portent of things to come.

Volker on debut in Brazil. His talent had nowhere to go with Rial. Volker on debut in Brazil. His talent had nowhere to go with Rial.
• Fantastic fouth in Phoenix: US is Rial's lucky charm
After missing the grid by 0.124s at Monaco, Danner started 23rd in Mexico, ahead of veterans Eddie Cheever, Arnoux and Piquet. A solid race saw him claim 12th, only one position behind the three-times World Champion in the Lotus. But the next race was in America once again, this time in Phoenix, and Danner's ARC2 snuck onto the grid in last spot. In a case of serious déjà vu, another race with a massive attrition rate yet again finished with a Rial in 4th, the German having stuck to his guns despite a broken exhaust, moving into the three-points-paying position with a handful of laps left.

This result was even more significant than their 4th in Detroit the previous year, because it meant that Weidler was able to escape from pre-qualifying for the second half of 1989. From a number of perspectives, though, this was totally unjustified. The ARC2 was fast reaching its use-by date, so much so that Danner's 12th place in the next race in Canada was Rial's last start. Other more worthy teams like Onyx, Larrousse, AGS and Osella had to slug it out in pre-qualifying whereas the geriatric Rials didn't, even though they stood little chance of making the race. Moreover, Weidler was simply not up to the grade.

The frustration was reaching boiling point, and it was not long before Schmid lost his cool. Although his team's slide was inevitable, he refused to accept the fact that without a newer car the blue machines would remain hopelessly uncompetitive. He began calling all the shots when it came to car set-up, ignoring the drivers' wishes, but then promptly blamed his pilots when they failed to make the grid! He was fast losing patience with Weidler, and his relationship with Danner was becoming more and more strained with every race, and every passing DNQ.

As if the team had come full circle, Rial started falling foul of the rulebook yet again as well. At Hockenheim, when Weidler's car stopped on the track with electrical problems, you can probably guess what happened next. Another US$5,000 fine was the result. Then in Hungary, Weidler was stripped of his Friday times and the team fined again when Volker's rear wing was found to have been mounted too far back. That day being Schmid's birthday, the boss was none too pleased. Blaming Fober for the mistake, he forced the engineer the pay the fine all by himself!

Danner's stunning 4th place in Phoenix put Rial in qualifying proper for the second half of the season. Danner's stunning 4th place in Phoenix put Rial in qualifying proper for the second half of the season.
• Send in the clowns: PHR, Gregor and Bertrand
Fober had become sick of the Rial shenanigans, and had planned to leave the team after Hungary anyway, and this was the last straw. After four consecutive races from France to Hungary in which neither Rial had made the grid, Fober departed and Weidler was sacked. Pierre-Henri Raphanel moved over from Coloni, bringing with him designer Christian van der Pleyn, although at first the miserly Schmid quibbled about hiring the latter, fearing that it would cost too much. Eventually he realised that, even if he was not going to change his stolid ways, without a designer the team was up the creek.

But perhaps it was too late for the French connection to make a difference. The car was too old, and too far off the pace. Neither Danner or Raphanel qualified in Belgium, Italy or Portugal, and after that the German finally walked out as well. In came the Swiss driver Gregor Foitek, for whom anything was better than the EuroBrun he had been driving all year. Or so he thought! When a mechanical breakage in qualifying in Spain caused him to have a massive shunt, that was enough as far as he was concerned, and he was more than happy to leave the death-trap ARC2 to someone else.

That someone else turned out to be Bertrand Gachot, who had been ungraciously sacked by the Onyx team, but he fared no better than his predecessors. The Rials didn't make the grid in Spain, Japan or Australia, and the team which had started 1989 looking to build on a promising debut season ended it with only a skeleton crew, a car that was verging on being an antique, and a litany of disgruntled ex-drivers, mechanics and designers. And through it all, the boss, Schmid himself, trying to hang on and run his team - and set up the cars - the way he saw fit, and nothing else.

Even though the three points in Phoenix gave Rial 13th in the constructors' title, not unexpectedly the team shut down at the end of the year, although Schmid can still be seen occasionally at Grands Prix these days. They say that the second year for a team is always the hardest, and Rial's story proved that. But largely the team fell on its own sword by taking an overly conservative route in its design for 1989, and with Schmid's management style meaning that he could never hold onto anyone for any length of time. Team ownership is a fine line to tread, and it was one he did not tread particularly well.

Gachot tries his hardest to keep the Rial on the road in Japan.
© John Townsend.
Gachot tries his hardest to keep the Rial on the road in Japan.

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