The Tyrrell P34 must be one of the best remembered grand prix racing cars of all time – and that’s thanks to one distinctive feature: its six wheels. The logic was simple. By reducing the frontal area of the wheels, the car would create less drag. To reintroduce the lost grip, an extra pair of wheels was added, which also brought with it an increase in the sweep area of the brake discs. So while it looks like a novelty, the thinking behind it was anything but.
It worked, too. The cars finished a respectable third and fourth in the championship in their debut season (1976) and had a best result of 1-2 in the Swedish grand prix, with Jody Scheckter taking the win and team-mate Patrick Depailler following him home. But towards the end of the season, the cars were becoming less competitive because the special 10in Goodyear tyres hadn’t received the same level of development as the regular tyres. In 1977, Tyrrell went back to a four-wheeled design.
But that wasn’t before other teams had taken note of the six-wheeled layout. Ferrari, March and Williams all built experimental six-wheelers – the difference being that they all fitted the four wheels at the back of the car for extra traction. Alas, none of those teams actually raced their six-wheelers and in 1983 regulations restricted the number of driven wheels on a Formula 1 car to two. Later, six-wheelers were banned altogether.
So it’s the Tyrrell that takes its place as the best remembered six-wheeler F1 car, and the only one ever to win a race. This video gives an unusual perspective on the layout, thanks to its high camera angle. Part of the bodywork is also removed, giving a clear view of Depailler working at the steering wheel (and gear lever – remember those!) as he laps Monaco. What a pity Formula 1 regulations no longer allow such freedom and experimentation in engineering.