Michel May


Record updated 19-Apr-08

Michel (or Michael) was a visionary engineer who was responsible for the first inverted aerofoil to create downforce on a racing car. Sadly his talents were not fully realised.

Michel May
Michael May was born in Stuttgart, Germany.

In 1956, ten years before Jim Hall's winged Chaparrals appeared, May, an engineering student at the time, thought that by constructing an airfoil, flipping it over so that it produced a negative force towards the ground, and mounting it onto his Porsche Type 550, he could utilise the downforce to improve the traction, grip, and handling of his race car.  But Michael May's innovation was perhaps too successful.  At the first race, the organisers, under pressure from Porsche boss Hüschke von Hanstein, refused him entry sighting that the wing, “restricted the view of the drivers behind him”.  Subsequent attempts to run the wing mounted Porsche were denied as well. In reality von Hanstein should have copied the idea and hired him but  with that, wing development and conscious downforce generation fell by the side and for the rest of the 1950s.

May nevertheless raced successfully in Formula Junior with a Stanguellini, winning the first Monaco race in 1959 and taking second places in the Eifelrennen and at Pau.

In 1961 at the Monaco Grand prix he drove Seidel's Lotus qualifying in 14th. In the race he ran strongly until his retirement after 42 laps with a broken oil line.

He had further outings in the Lotus in the French GP where he qualified 22nd and finished 11th, and the German GP at the Nurburgring where a practice crash persuaded him to pursue his original vocation, working on fuel injection development with Porsche, for whom he was also a test driver.

In 1963-64 he was a consultant to Ferrari on its successful adoption of Bosch direct fuel injection for its racing engines and mentioned the function and the success of the wing to Mauro Forghieri. Forghieri and his team engineered, built and mounted an aerodynamically-sound wing on the 312 F1 Ferrari and tested it in 1968.