Formula 1 racing is one of the most watched sports around the world, with events happening in Paris, Dubai, Europe, and Mexico. If you're a fan of F1, you'll likely stay on top of the history and news, but have you ever heard about the 6-wheeled F1 cars?
A Formula 1 car designed by Derek Garnder in the 1970s was set to change the game with the introduction of a 6-wheeled car. The Tyrrell P34 was to be the first of its kind, and Ferrari and McLaren experimented with the same idea later. However, the idea was eventually scrapped by all manufacturers.
This article will discuss the idea of 6 wheeled formula one race cars and who originally brought the idea to reality. So keep reading! We have everything you need to know about 6-wheeled formula one race cars.
Back in the early '70s, Formula 1 racing was still becoming the technologically sound sport it is today. It would eventually form into the sport full of expert engineers, precise aerodynamics, and professional designers that we all love, but a lot of experimentation would need to occur first.
Engineers and designers in the early 70s tried everything they could to get ahead of their rivals. Each had to stay inside the law and ensure whatever they came up with stayed within safety regulations, so they didn't get banned from competiting.
One idea that seemed odd at the time was the idea of a 6-wheeled car first put forward by the Elf Tyrell race team, who were eventually bought out various times and today live on as the Mercedes race team.
The Tyrell P34 was veichle designed by the experienced Derek Gardner, and at its time, it was one of a kind simply because instead of utilizing four wheels, it was going to use six. The idea may have seemed strange in the beginning. However, Gardner listed many benefits to driving this kind of vehicle.
Using six wheels made sense, at least in theory. Gardner assured the Tyrell team that adding four smaller ten-inch tyres to the veichles front half, as well as two standard formula 1 tires at its rear end. This would grealty increase wheel's contact with the track, thus, ensuring greater traction when turning or braking.
On top of this, small wheels in the front ensured greater aerodynamic properties; so after finishing the design and winning over the Tyrell team's improvement, Gardner, with the help of the manufacturing team, built the Tyrrell P34, and it would make its competitive debut in 1976.
The Tyrell P34 officially made its Formula 1 debut in the 1976 season and did have some level of success throughout the year. The vehicle was driven by Tyrell drivers Patrick Depailler and Jody Scheckter, who earned a combined ten podium finishes, and a one-two finish at Sweends Grand Prix that year.
While they had initial success in the car's debut season, finishing third in the Constructions championships, and the fans were both amazed and shocked with the new design, the car began to show some problems.
Unfortunately, while the extra set of wheels helped on the track, it began to show signs of being unreliable, especially during the finishing of a race. As four of the tires were smaller than the average F1 tire, they roasted much faster and, in turn, had to be replaced more often.
On top of this, the faster rotation of the four tires put extra stress on the break, forcing them to work harder, keeping them in a constant overheating state. Pile this on top of smaller suspension and engine malfunctions and Tyrells P34 failed to finish in a total eight races that season.
The next season Tyrell tried to redesign the Tyrrell P34 to help correct some of the various problems and improve the aerodynamic properties of the car; however, the model turned out to be completely unreliable, and neither the tire nor the brake problem was solved.
In the 1977 season, the Tyrrell P34 only managed four podium finishes for the season and increased its retirements to 19, resulting in a poor season for race team. Not long after this, the FIA announced that any car competing in an F1 race would have to have four tires, no more, no less.
Thus, that was the end of the dream first put forward by Gardner, and while it may have worked if a decade of research had been put into the idea, it just wasn't the right time or era.
While Elf Tyrell was the only race team to build and race a 6-wheeled vehicle, however, various other teams considered the idea and began work on a prototype. Ferrari and McLaren would both do their own experimentation with 6-wheeled race cars.
Ferrari and McLaren brought their own aspects to the design, aiming for a four-wheel drive rather than just four wheels aimed at steering. Ferrari even went as far as placing four wheels on one axle, whereas McLaren placed four wheels at the car's rear to further increase traction.
Neither McLaren nor Ferrari ever debuted their cars in an official Formula one season and were left to wonder if they could have ushered in the era of 6-wheeled Formula 1 racing.
While the 6-wheeled vehicles were now banned from partaking in any official Formula 1 race, an enthusiast by the name of Simon Bull bought the body of a P34 and made the necessary requirements to meet the safety standards.
This involved adding customized ten-inch tires from Avon and sorting out the various problems, such as the overheating of the brakes, making a P34 fit for racing.
Simon Bull went on to the Thoroughbred Championships in 2000; this is a race that brings together old and remodelled F1 cars. So, while it seems the experiment simply needed a few more years for technological advances to occur, it doesn't seem likely that we will see a 6-wheeled car in the F1 anytime soon.
(Top photo: Russell Whitworth, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)