Back in 1976, Tyrrell introduced arguably one of the most radical racecars that Formula 1 had ever seen — the P34. What was so extreme about it? Oh nothing… except it had six wheels! Two conventional front wheels clearly weren’t enough for Tyrrell, and so the racing team built a car that had, yep, four.
The 10in wheels looked ridiculously small compared to the huge rear rubbers, but the logic behind the innovative design was that it would help give the car some extra grip and downforce.
It worked, to an extent; at the Swedish Grand Prix that year, driver Jody Scheckter started on pole and, much to anyone’s surprise, took the chequered flag, making him the only driver to win a Grand Prix in a six-wheeled car — a feat that’ll probably never be repeated.
But before it could make an impact on the sport, FIA bigwigs banned such a concept and the days where no two cars ever looked the same and when all sorts of avenues were being followed in the pursuit of speed were at an end.
Regardless, the short-lived P34 managed to make quite an impression — and it wasn’t just because of the way it looked.
The unmistakable car was interesting to say the least. Powered by a robust 3.0-litre V8 Cosworth DFV, which produced a whopping 500bhp, the aim was to reduce lift and provide maximum downforce and grip at the front end. It weighed 595kg and its chassis utilised an aluminium monocoque. The four front wheels were held by double wishbones and coil springs over the dampers.
Aside from the revolutionary design, the car was as basic as they came; it packed a transponder system so the team could monitor its lap times, a set of gauges, a seat and a steering wheel and that was it. Still, Tyrrell’s rivals McLaren and Lotus gave the car a lot of respect. After all, Tyrrell had won the World Championship with Jackie Stewart in 1969, 1971 and 1973.
Much was expected from the car, but the only success it tasted was in Sweden at the Anderstorp circuit where the two P34s finished in first and second place.
It had its problems and they were about to be magnified in 1977, by which time Scheckter — who never liked the car, calling it a “piece of junk” despite scoring 10 top-six finishes in it from just 12 starts and coming third in the World Championships the previous year — had left the team.
The main issue was with its front tyres. Specialised rubber was required for a size that small, but supplier Goodyear wasn’t playing along. That season Tyrrell failed to win a single race — the first time this had happened in years — and the P34 was dropped for the far more conventional four-wheel 008 for the 1978 FIA Formula 1 World Championship.
The record books speak of its solitary Grand Prix victory, but the fact is the P34 had much more to shout about. It goes down in racing folklore for its extraordinary design that pushed the boundaries.
The history-making car and driver will be reunited at next month’s CarFest at Laverstoke Park Farm in Hampshire for the first time in almost 40 years. The fact that Scheckter has added a P34 to his growing collection must mean he’s finally warming to it now…