Aero joke had the last laugh
- Mattijs Diepraam
- 8W July 2000 issue
- 1969 Spanish GP - Adios aerofoils, enter aerodynamics, by Mattijs Diepraam/Felix Muelas/Robert Blinkhorn
Michel (or Michael) May, Jack Brabham
Scuderia Colonia Lotus-Climax 18, Cooper-Climax T55
1961 Monaco GP (May 14, 1961)
The reigning World Champion coming up to lap a young Swiss newcomer who is about to retire anyway? Well, no, since it's Brabham trailing May by four laps, his Cooper suffering a similar demise to the Lotus right here in this picture.
At that point, Brabham was trailing badly in the race and it had everything to do with Black Jack's trying to do an Andretti - that is, doing the qualifying for both a Formula One Grand Prix and Champ Car event in one weekend! In Jack's case, he was squeezing his 1961 Indy 500 Pole Day participation in between his Monaco GP obligations, meaning he couldn't do better than a 1,24,0 on Ascension Day qualifying, leaving for the States with a lowly 16th and final qualifying spot to show for. He got about as far at Indianapolis, putting his light-weight rear-engined Cooper on the fifth row, amidst all of America's bulky front-engined roadsters, but he had silently hit the first nail in the roadster's coffin. The other nails were hammered home hard by Jim Clark's yellow-banded Lotus a couple of years later.
His American exploits meant that come the start on Sunday Brabham had some catching up to do. In fact, the Australian's place on the grid had been guaranteed by the organizers, that did not allow more than 16 cars to compete in the race. And well, he was the World Champion.
Other teams besides Cooper granted an automatic entry (with two cars each) were Ferrari, Porsche, Lotus and BRM. Furthermore, former winner Trintignant (in the Serenissima Cooper-Maser) and last year's winner Moss (in Rob Walker's Lotus) were allowed in. Which left a further nine cars to fight over the remaining four places on the grid: Ginther in the third Ferrari, Herrmann in the third Porsche, the BRP Lotuses of Cliff Allison and Henry Taylor, Surtees in the single Parnell Cooper, American hotshoe Masten Gregory in the Camoradi Cooper entry, and finally Gendebien and Bianchi and the Ecurie Nationale Belge, that had turned out with its equally hideous and slow Emeryson-Maseratis - in which the ENB were fooled to buying under the false pretence of a rigged performance in the 1960 Paris GP at Montlhéry. Of these cars, you would expect Ginther, Herrmann, Surtees and Gregory to qualify, as they were the best drivers of the bunch with fine machinery in their possession. It didn't quite turn out that way for all of them.
The Ascension Day session started off with the Ferrari drivers posting quick times, before Clark drilled the fastest time down to 1.39.6, a full 1.5 seconds ahead of Phil Hill. The Scot then proceeded to having a huge shunt at Ste Devote, hitting the newly-placed Armco in much the same fashion in which five of this year's F1 cars went straight on. Unsurprisingly, the fragile Lotus was much more damaged by the blow than the current equipment and Clark was lucky to escape unhurt. Meanwhile, Jack Brabham did what was needed by posting a 1.44 before flying off to Indianapolis to qualify for the 500. Then on Friday, Richie Ginther went seriously fast, going 0.3s under Clark's time, worrying the British teams to no end, especially the UDT Laystall and Yeoman Credit teams, who were hoping for some bad luck to occur to one of the favourites of the group of nine. Then their misery was compounded by Michel May going strong, setting a remarkable 1.42, while Graham Hill managed to squeeze himself in between the Dinos of Phil and "Taffy".
In the final session on Saturday Ireland overcooked it by selecting second instead of fourth in the tunnel. Needless to say, his off was a big one, and while his Lotus was written off - the second in three days - its driver was taken to hospital with several minor injuries, of which a broken kneecap was the most severe. This meant there was one less guaranteed qualifier, and after clamping down on their initial ruling that only 15 cars would start, finally the organizers went soft and allowed Cliff Allison in. In the meantime, Clark's Thursday time still stood straight and was good for second on the grid, but then Moss turned in a flyer to snatch pole with 0.2s under Ginther's time, while Graham Hill jumped Phil Hill by equalling Clark's time. By then, our Swiss hero was comfortably in, with his Friday time no less, along with Surtees and Herrmann, while Taylor, Gregory and the two Belgians had to sit out Sunday afternoon.
So who was this Michel May dude anyway? His qualifying form may have been somewhat expected, since the German-born Swiss borrowed on previous track knowledge, being the 1959 F Junior event winner in a Stanguellini. But still his first of just three World Championship showings - retiring after 42 laps with a broken oil line (obviously seen here on the picture) - won't have made him more than just a fleeting ghost passing through Grand Prix history. Yet the young Swiss engineer-cum-driver was to be of more importance to Formula One than anyone that day would have guessed.
May certainly had a mind of his own, and for that matter, one bustling with ideas, one of which preluded a revolution which changed the face of Formula One forever. A handful of years before his World Championship debut, still being a technical student, the young May had been a sportscar driver dabbling with rudimentary aerodynamics as a way to more effectively turn horsepower into forward motion. Putting an inverted wing on top of his Porsche 550 Spyder suddenly seemed a good idea to create more grip, as he and his brother Pierre remembered a similar construction being used on the 1927 Opel RAK-2 rocket car. To make the object even more avant-la-lettre than it already was, the May brothers constructed a lever system by which the wing could be moved.
The aerofoil admittedly turned the Spyder into a silly-looking device (picture supplied by Pieter de Vos) and so it was greeted with all-round laughs in the paddock of the 1956 Nürburgring sportscar race. It got past scrutineering and then made some eyes grow very wide by posting 4th fastest time in practice, outpacing the likes of Fangio and Behra. Remember, this was a production 550 suddenly keeping up with the beefed-up works Spyders. Obviously worried, Porsche boss Hüschke von Hanstein lodged a protest and managed to move the organizers into deeming it "unsafe". Today, it is crystal clear why he protested the idea but it still remains a mystery why he didn't nick it for use of his own... From then on the thought lingered but would have found more followers at a sooner time if it had been a well-funded works team and a class driver that had introduced the concept and put it to good use. As it was, it took the racing world at least ten more years before someone finally caught on. That someone was Chaparral's highly innovative Jim Hall, who reintroduced the aerofoil on his 2E sportscar before going on to create the infamous 2J 'sucker' machine. Even more telling of May being the man with a vision, these wings and also the first ones propping up on top of the 1968 F1 Ferraris (also thought to be May's idea, who as an engineer had by then long since jumped ship to Maranello) were used on high-speed tracks to create more stability. Only later was it discovered - or rather, rediscovered - that wings were beneficial on slow tracks such as the Nürburgring, as they create the downforce needed for improved grip and thus cornering. Which was exactly the reason the May brothers invented their aerofoil in the first place…
Two races after Monaco, May's F1 career was over and done with. A a huge practice crash at the 'Ring pushed the young engineer into a rethink of his driving ambitions and he wisely pulled out of racing. After that, he concentrated on his engineering skills, working for Porsche, especially on the matter of fuel injection, while also acting as their test driver, then switching his services to Ferrari. Incidentally, the private Lotus running No.8 at the Monaco GP was rumoured to be the result of Porsche originally entering a fourth car for its employee. But when this fell through, May approached Seidel to give him the Lotus in which the team owner had been dabbling in F2 the previous year.
Meanwhile, May's retirement from the sport meant the Scuderia Colonia was without a driver. Notwithstanding the latin aspect of its name, this Scuderia was a German outfit run by perennial privateer Wolfgang Seidel, who understandably harked back from the German city of Cologne. Seidel's team had run under several names, of which this one had undoubtedly the most romantic touch. An enthusiast continuing after the Veritas and BMW Special era had closed, Seidel managed to acquire some proper machinery for his pan-European campaigns, concentrating on the lesser events but also taking in a couple of Grands Prix each year. In sportscars he was a dependable driver who mainly drove his own cars but had occasional works drives as well, of which one resulted in the highlight of his career: winning the 1959 Targa Florio, co-driving with Edgar Barth.
Back to 1961 and the Monaco race, where the action truly heated up after May's demise. The event was an absolute corker and showed Stirling Moss at his best. You could argue over whether this win was his greatest ever - or was it the heroic victory in the 1958 Argentine GP, also the historic first win for a rear-engined car. In any case Stirling narrowly beat the much-better prepared Ferraris on both occasions. In 1958 Luigi Musso found himself at the wrong end of the equasion after Moss and Rob Walker pulled Ferrari a dummy in an ingenious pit-stop ploy which, ironically, the Italian team is now famous for.
In his second consecutive Monaco win for Walker Stirling did not have any need for tricks, as he used his phenomenal skill to win by just three seconds. This in a car with no side-body panels! Of course we have all seen the familiar pictures of the Lotus storming through the streets of Monaco, bluntly showing its tube frame, the start number hardly visible. Rob Walker always maintained this was to counter the heat, but what was the real cause? Apparently, a crack was discovered in the tube lining the fuel tank, so cool mechanic Alf Francis set about welding it - with the fuel already on board! - just before the car was wheeled onto the grid. With no time to put the panels back on, Moss just hopped in the car to get on with the job - such was his faith in Francis.
With the 3pm start approaching the field lined up on the starting grid, which contrary to today was on the Quai Albert Premier, running up to the Gasometer Hairpin, nowadays replaced by the corner sequence of Rascasse and Anthony Noghès. Then the flag fell and Ginther shot into the lead, the young American immediately pulling out a gap. Was he trying to create a cushion before easing to control the lead? This was going to be a gruelling 100-lap race, an endurance event which would last for approximately three hours. Richie sure wasn't acting accordingly, such was his style in the opening laps. Or did Ferrari team manager Tavoni instruct him to drive to the limit to wear down the British and the Porsches, in order to have Hill and Trips come through halfway through the race? The strategy soon paid off as the Lotus of Jim Clark developed fuel feed problems, which caused the Scotsman to lose four laps. So that was one rival out of the equasion.
Meanwhile, profiting from Clark's demise, Bonnier and Gurney had stormed up to third and fourth, trailing Moss and the unleashed Ginther. First, the Porsches held up a gaggle of cars drummed up behind them, but then Jo Bonnier started to pull clear of his team mate to close in on Moss, who in turn had his car going. The Englishman was now on the Ferrari's tail and managed to pull by on lap 14. To Ginther's surprise, Bonnier also found a way past. In front, we saw a true Monaco maestro at work, Moss gradually pulling clear of the field. Then Phil Hill decided it was time to stop conserving his Ferrari, as he set out to chase Moss after having overtaken both Ginther and Bonnier, while Ginther found new life in his 156 to retake third from the Swede on the run up to Casino - an impossible place to overtake with the current machinery! Meanwhile, Hill pulled out all the stops to close the gap to Moss, but he was hardly making sufficient inroads to Moss' lead, which halfway through the race was still about eight seconds.
Then Ginther set about to attack for the third time, as he passed his team leader at three-quarters of the race and managed to do what the later World Champion had failed to do over the past thirty laps or so. While setting a fastest lap just shy of the all-out record by a 2.5-litre machine one year earlier, Richie narrowed down the gap to three seconds. But Moss immediately responded by copying Ginther's amazing lap time! With just over ten laps to go, the gap went up and down by just tenths of seconds and so Moss crossed the line with his margin still intact.
Reader's Why by John Cross
Here is Michel about to retire from his first Grand Prix with a broken oil pipe. He had shown great promise, qualifying 14th (and starting 13th after Innes Ireland crashed and broke a leg during practice) out of 21 and running strongly during the race until his retirement after 42 laps. He had further outings in Seidel's Lotus in the French GP where he qualified 22nd and finished 11th, and the German GP where a practice crash persuaded him to pursue his original vocation, working on fuel injection development with both Porsche, for whom he was also a test driver, and then Ferrari. He had previously raced successfully in Formula Junior with a Stanguellini, winning the first Monaco race in 1959 and taking 2nd places in the Eiffelrennen and at Pau.
But Michel (who was born on 18th August 1934 in Stuttgart, Germany) is best known as the first man to improve cornering speeds through the use of downforce, ten years before Jim Hall's winged Chaparrals appeared. At the age of 21, he brought his privately-entered Porsche 550 Spyder to the 1956 Nurburgring 1000 km race fitted with an enormous mid-mounted wing and went so quickly in practice that the Porsche factory team manager supported those who argued successfully for the removal of its wing. Why on earth they didn't hire him on the spot is anybody's guess! What is most extraordinary is the fact that the Nurburgring is a relatively slow-speed track - the first F1 experiments with wings were only carried out at high-speed tracks like Spa, and they were primarily aimed at improving stability by reducing lift rather than improving cornering speeds by imposing downforce (the wings were too small initially for this). Michel was a true visionary whose talents were sadly not fully realised.
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. Then, early in 1968 in New Zealand, Ferrari engineer Gianni Marelli had witnessed experiments with a primitive wing tried, but not raced, on a Lotus driven by Jimmy Clark. Ferrari itself had experimented with a rear wing on the 246 SP when the value of the tail spoiler was discovered in 1961, but that proved premature. Taking note now of all these influences and assessing as well the potential value to be obtained from a wing to aid cornering traction, Mauro Forghieri and his team engineered, built and mounted an aerodynamically-sound wing on the 312 F1 Ferrari and tested it in 1968.
The race itself was the first of the new 1.5 litre formula and Ferrari arrived with two 'sharknose' 156 V-6s with their cylinders angled at 60 degrees and a new car (for Ginther) with a 120-degree V-6. Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips were the other two drivers. There were eight new Coventry Climax engines on parade - but the Ferraris had at least 30 bhp advantage. Cooper, Lotus and BRM had new cars. Stirling Moss had a 1960 Lotus and a Cooper to choose from. Innes Ireland crashed and broke a leg in practice. Stirling was fastest - with Ginther and Clark beside him, on the front row of the grid - and had taken the side panels out of his car to help him keep cool! Ginther led for 14 laps but Moss and Bonnier (in the Porsche) slipped through together. Moss started to pull out a lead. Phil Hill moved through to chase the navy blue car but to no avail. At half distance Moss had a 7.8 seconds lead over Hill, with Ginther and Bonnier behind the American. Bonnier's fine drive lasted only 60 laps when his fuel injection went. On lap 74, Ginther decided to chase Moss and narrowed the gap to three seconds. He set a new lap record - but Moss equalled it on the next lap and went on to one of his finest victories.