To F1, and in fact Goodwood, followers, the Tyrrell P34 needs no introduction.
Designed for the 1976 season by Tyrrell's chief designer, Derek Gardner, it featured four 10-inch diameter wheels at the front, with two ordinary-sized wheels at the back. Faced with a level playing field due to powertrain uniformity (Cosworth DFV engine, Hewland gearbox and Goodyear tyres), he hoped to improve aerodynamics with the radical design.
Speaking to Autosport magazine, he explained: “I did some calculations, and concluded that if I had a car with four small front wheels, contained within the width of the bodywork, I could reduce the amount of lift generated by normal front wheels. That in turn would allow me to back off on the front aerodynamics. And, hey presto, the figure I came up with was the equivalent of 40-odd horsepower!”
Gardner pressed ahead with the prototype, keeping it a secret from almost everyone – including its future pilots – and managing to convince Goodyear to produce the tiny 10-inch tyres.
The P34 debuted at the fourth round of the 1976 season, at the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama in the hands of Patrick Depailler. Despite showing promise on fast straights and long corners, the car fell victim to a braking issue. A fortnight later, Jody Scheckter pushed the P34 to fourth in Belgium, before Scheckter and Depailler scored second and third at Monaco behind Niki Lauda’s Ferrari.It was during its fourth outing when the P34 struck gold, with Scheckter and Depailler finishing first and second respectively at the Swedish Grand Prix, making Scheckter the only driver to ever to win a race in a six-wheeled car. Believe it or not, however, he left Tyrell at the end of the season, reportedly calling the car a ‘piece of junk’.
A redesign for 1977 left the P34 wider and heavier than before and, despite promising results from Scheckter’s replacement, Ronnie Peterson, it had lost its competitive edge. The following season, Tyrell returned to a more conventional layout.