Formula 1 outfits hire the most talented group of engineers that money can buy in order to gain miniscule advantages on track, where milliseconds mean the difference between 1st and losing. Teams would often try to exploit the rules or introduce wacky innovations in a bid to one-up their closest rivals. One such technology that several teams tried out in the 70s and 80s was the addition of an extra pair of wheels on the car, making into the so-called “six-wheeler”. We will look at the initial success of the design, and why the concept subsequently lost traction and is no longer viewed as a valid option of modern F1.
The Tyrrell P34
The first and definitely the most iconic six-wheeler was the Tyrrell P34, which gave birth to the notion of six wheels on an F1 car. The concept first came to be when engineers toyed with the idea of fitting significantly smaller wheels which could fit completely behind the front wing. This was theorized to reduce drag and improve aerodynamic performance of the whole car.
While this was certainly the case in preliminary tests, a single-pair of 10-inch wheels at the front didn’t provide enough grip through the corners. Therefore, Tyrrell decided that another set of tyres on a second turning axle would help alleviate the issue.
Well it did, and the shocking new design was pushed into service for the 1976 season, managing equally surprising results. Patrick Depailler qualified in 3rd place in the P34’s debut race at Jarama, but this was not the full extent of the vehicle’s capabilities. Not in the slightest.
At the Swedish Grand Prix that year, Depailler and his teammate Jody Scheckter came 2nd and 1st respectively to give Tyrrell their first 1-2 finish in 2 years. The fast, flowing Anderstorp Raceway suited the six-wheeler’s dynamics perfectly. A plethora of podiums followed in a relatively successful campaign for the British outfit as they managed 3rd in the Constructors’ Championship.
Since then, a few other teams tried their hand at the six-wheel concept, but none were ever raced in an actual event. They were March, Ferrari and Williams. Furthermore, they went for a different philosophy whereby four wheels were located behind the driver’s head rather than at the front like the Tyrrell. The intended effect however was the same: to improve airflow to the rear wing and minimise drag.
March Engineering tried to build upon the early successes of the Tyrrell P34 and came up with their own six-wheel design. Dubbed the March 2-4-0, its alien looks generated massive furore in the media. Nevertheless, apart from a few shakedowns at Silverstone the vehicle never saw any on-track action.
Ferrari tried to follow suit with perhaps the weirdest looking one of the bunch, the 312T6. It had dual rear tyres located on a single axle, which actually caused more problems than it solved. It made the car exceed the maximum permitted width of Formula One cars at the time, and it was described by both Niki Lauda and Carlos Reutemann as being difficult to drive. The idea was scrapped soon after its nascence.
The Demise of the 6-Wheeler
Moving into the 1980s, Williams Grand Prix Engineering were looking for any way to close the gap to their turbo-powered rivals. The engines strapped to the back of Renault and Ferrari to name a few produced almost 200bhp more than the trustworthy but ultimately underpowered Cosworth DFV in the back of the Williams cars.
The engineers decided to resurrect the six-wheeler design, believing that the reduction in drag by having four wheels at the back would give extra straight-line speed and make up for the engine power deficit. Early testing of the FW07D, followed by implementation of the same philosophy in the FW08B showed great promise.
This garnered the attention of the FIA, and they swiftly introduced a new rule which limited the number of wheels on a Formula 1 car to four. The designer of the FW07D, Patrick Head, believes that the FIA got scared that six-wheelers would cause carnage at pitstops, which had just started to become a common strategical choice in F1.
All other six-wheelers which may have been on the horizon never saw the light of day beyond this, and it is severely unlikely that a current team would work on a project which is outright banned by the governing bodies. But the legacy of the six-wheeler will never be forgotten.
For more updates on the website and extra info, follow our Instagram @thef1scoop, Facebook @FOne Scoop and Twitter @F1 Scoop.