Morning Symphony: 1977 Tyrrell P34 – The Six-Wheeled Wonder At Imola

Morning Symphony: 1977 Tyrrell P34 – The Six-Wheeled Wonder At Imola

Innovate or die. That’s the way motorsports works…you look for any kind of advantage, any kind of gain that will put you ahead of the pack and you run with it until either you succeed and everybody copies you, or until what you’ve done is deemed too successful and is legislated out with the rules. Look back into history and you can see this in practice, from the Fiat S76 Record to the Daytona/Superbird twins that Chrysler Corporation went to war with Ford at NASCAR tracks with. The name of the game is always one-upmanship.

In 1975, Formula 1 was wild. This was the era of James Hunt and Niki Lauda, Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni, Jochen Mass, Mario Andretti and Mark Donohue in his last racing year before the accident at √Ėsterreichring that claimed his life. Technical advancements ruled the day. Lauda had the Ferrari 312t, a car that he would use to stomp his way to the championship that year while earning the Prancing Horse a constructor’s championship. Kind of hard to overshadow that kind of performance, but there was a way: six wheels. Here’s how this worked: in 1975, the maximum width of the front spoiler was just a tick under five feet. With four wheels, the tire stuck out past the wing and stood well above it, in the wind where you didn’t want it. Tyrrell bypassed this by using four 10″ diameter wheels up front sporting Avon tires. With the tires neatly tucked inside of and behind the front wing, not only did the driver gain an aero advantage, but having four contact patches helped with handling and provided more sweep area for the brakes to function as well. It might have looked like a freakshow on the course but it worked, especially at the SwedishGrand Prix in 1976, where Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler came first-second in Tyrrells, with Lauda’s Ferrari tailing behind in third and Hunt’s McLaren-Ford in fifth.

The program ultimately proved to be a bit troublesome, especially when Scheckter was replaed with Ronnie Peterson. The P34B had upgrades that tacked on 190 pounds to the car’s chassis and ultimately, the six-wheeled plan was scrapped for the 1978 season. Shortly thereafter, in 1983, the FIA specified four wheels only in the rules.

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