1976 Tyrrell P34 memorable Formula 1 racecar
If the Formula One circus wasn’t already reeling from the shock of big-haired drivers sporting pork chop sideburns and man-medallions, nothing could prepare them for the arrival of the six-wheeled Tyrrell P34 in 1976. In an era defined by the Cosworth DFV engine, only the most radical design departures could provide a potential escape from the inevitable mid-grid mire. This is why the P34 was crafted with cleaner aero in mind; by narrowing the front tyres to 10 inches, they fitted behind the 1,5 m front wing.
The downside of this drag-reducing concept was that the smaller tyre contact patch necessarily implied reduced braking and cornering performance. Tyrrell’s chief designer, Derek Gardner, therefore decided to double the number of front wheels, with the second pair connected by a bell crank to the steering mechanism.
The P34 competed from the fourth round of the 1976 championship onwards, where it qualified third on its debut outing. Three races later at Anderstorp, Jody Scheckter led from lights to flag, scoring the six-wheeler’s only victory.
Despite finishing third in the championship, Scheckter hated the P34. Thanks to the larger footprint, the quadruplet of front tyres greatly aided braking, but only as long as the track surface was level. As soon as one of them locked, the wheelbase would be dynamically altered. Any remnants of stability immediately disappeared. Leaving the team at the end of 1976 – in his trademark style and ever-diplomatic assessment of the car – the South African world champion described it as “a piece of junk”.
The P34 survived just one more year, but with Goodyear by then no longer developing the bespoke front tyres, the car’s performance languished. Ferrari, Williams and March all later tried their hands at dual rear-axle equipped six-wheelers, though none of them ever raced. All such designs were ultimately banned in 1983.