The car used four specially manufactured 10-inch-diameter (250 mm) wheels and tyres at the front, with two ordinary-sized wheels at the back. Contrary to popular belief, the idea of the smaller front tyres was not to have a smaller "frontal area" to reduce drag, as the frontal area was still determined by the width of the standard-sized rear slicks. In fact, the six-wheel design reduced the lift caused by two larger front wheels, improving frontal downforce, increased the total contact patch of the front tyres and created a greater swept area for the brake discs.
When unveiled, the cover was peeled away from the back forward and the collective gasps from the world's press said it all. Along with the Brabham BT46B "Fancar" developed in 1978, the six-wheeled Tyrrell was one of the two most radical entries ever to succeed in Formula One (F1) competition, and has specifically been called the most recognizable design in the history of world motorsports.
It first ran in the Spanish GP in 1976, and proved to be very competitive. Both Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler were able to produce solid results with the car, but while Depailler praised the car continually, Scheckter realised it would only be temporarily competitive. The special Goodyear tyres were not being developed enough by the end of the season.
The P34's golden moment came in the Swedish Grand Prix. Scheckter and Depailler finished first and second, and to date Scheckter is the only driver ever to win a race in a six-wheeled car. He left the team at the end of the season, insisting that the six-wheeler was "a piece of junk!"
For 1977, Scheckter was replaced by the Swede Ronnie Peterson, and the P34 was redesigned around cleaner aerodynamics. The P34B was wider and heavier than before, and, although Peterson was able to string some promising results from the P34B, as was Depailler, it was clear the car was not as good as before, mostly due to the tyre manufacturer's failure to properly develop the small front tyres. The added weight of the front suspension system is also cited as a reason for ending the project. Thus, the P34 was abandoned for 1978, and a truly remarkable chapter in F1 history was over.
More recently the P34 has been a popular sight at historic racing events, proving competitive once more. This was made possible when the Avon tyre company agreed to manufacture bespoke 10-inch tyres for Simon Bull, the owner of chassis No. 6. In 1999 and 2000 the resurrected P34 competed at a number of British and European circuits as an entrant in the FIA Thoroughbred Grand Prix series. Driven by Martin Stretton, the car won the TGP series outright in 2000, the sister car repeating that success in 2008 in the hands of Mauro Pane; this example is today part of a private collection in Italy. Stretton also achieved numerous Pole Positions and class wins at the Grand Prix Historique de Monaco. The P34 has also been seen a number of times at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Other six wheeled Formula One cars
Whilst the Tyrrell P34 is the most widely known six-wheeled F1 car, it was not the only example of this design ever constructed. Both March Engineering and the Williams team built experimental six-wheeled F1 chassis. However, despite extensive testing, neither the March 2-4-0 nor Williams FW08B ever raced in a grand prix. The Scuderia Ferrari also built an experimental six-wheeled Formula 1 car, the Ferrari 312T6, which, unlike the March and Williams, featured the four rear wheels on a single axle. This was similar to how tractor trailers, some trucks, and most notably in the Grand Prix sport, the Auto Unions from the 1930s, arrange their tyres. However, like the Williams and March cars, the Ferrari was never raced. The reason for none of these cars actually racing and for the disappearance of six-wheeled cars in general, is largely as a result of a re-amended rule in 1983, which prohibited four-wheel-drive cars from competing. Later, the Formula 1 regulations stated that four was the maximum number of wheels allowed.
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