1976 Tyrrell P34
The famous Tyrrell P34 “six-wheeler” racecar from the 1976 and 77 F1 seasons. Currently on display at the Canepa Motorsports Museum. Looking for an advantage against Ferrari’s powerful flat-12 engine Tyrrell turned to chief designer Derek Gardner for a miracle. That miracle was the P34. A complete departure from traditional F1 design the P34 exploited holes in the rules more than any car that had come before. Contrary to popular belief, the idea of the small front tires was not to have a smaller “frontal area” to reduce drag, but in fact it was an attempt to reduce lift. The theory was that exposed tires cause lift, and the bigger they are, the greater the lift they will produce. Standard four-wheel F1 cars counteract this effect by the use of more wing at the front. Since the six-wheel concept would greatly reduce the lift effect generated by the front wheels it would not need to run large amounts of front wing, and in a straight line it would be the fastest F1 car in 1976.
Other advantages of the four-wheel design were increased contact patch on the tires and more brake swept area thanks to the four front disc brakes. On the disadvantage side the car was heavy due to the two sets of suspension and it had unreliable electronics. The downfall of the car was the front tires themselves. Whilst Goodyear developed the rear and the standard sized front F1 tires throughout the 1976 season, development of the bespoke P34 10″ tires was sadly lacking. Access to the tire testing machines was limited to one plant in Belgium and only then on certain nights in the week, by the end of the season the P34’s front tires were almost six months behind in development compared to the rears.
By the mid-1977 season the front tires were so slow that the front wheels were moved outboard into the airflow for more grip, which defeated the front end design, and the formula fell apart. Tyrrell returned to a more traditional car in 1978. The six-wheel car was never made illegal in its day, but the rules would be changed in the mid-80s limiting F1 cars to four wheels. So there will never be another F1 car like this again.
Photos taken by Canepa Staff Photographer Zach Todd.