June 13. A lucky day for the only six-wheeled F1 car that ever raced in a Grand Prix

By on Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Derek Gardner’s first sketch of Project 34 from August 1974

An important page of Formula 1 history was written thirty six years ago today when a six-wheeled car won its first and, as it turned out, only Grand Prix. The Tyrrell P34 (known as Project 34) might be one of the ugliest F1 car ever built, but it was perhaps one of the most innovative and radical concept of all time. Three other teams - March, Williams and Ferrari - built experimental six-wheeled chassis after Tyrrell, but none of those ever raced in a Grand Prix; mainly because the innovation was banned in 1983.

Back in the 1970s the F1 cars were nearly identical, running similar engines, gearboxes and tyres; therefore the difference could only have been made in the design. Consequently, Derek Gardner, the Elf-Tyrrell Racing’s chief designer, came up with the idea of building a six-wheeled racing car. It wasn’t the first time Gardner thought about designing a car with four 10 inch wheels in the front and two standard-sized at the rear, but it was the first time someone took him seriously and found his theory interesting. One year later, in September 1975, the prototype was officially unveiled, and despite poor results in testing, Ken Tyrrell had seen enough and decided to start developing a six-wheeler for the following season.

Jody Scheckter is the only driver to ever win a F1 race in a six-wheeled car

The P34 made its racing debut at the 1976 Spanish Grand Prix, when Frenchman Patrick Depailler qualified third, but didn’t finish the race. However, after a double podium finish in Monaco, the P34 took to the top step of the podium at just its fourth event. At the 1976 Swedish Grand Prix, on June 13, the drivers achieved a one-two finish. Jody Scheckter started the race from pole-position and held on to the lead until the end. Eight other podium finishes came later that year and helped the team to finish third in the Constructors Championship, with just a twelve point deficit to eventual champions Ferrari. After a good first year for the six-wheeler, the 1977 season turned out to be a disaster. The drivers struggled with the car and scored only four podium finishes, complaining about rapid tyre wear and overheated brakes. The project was abandoned at the end of the 1977 season, due to lack of commitment from Goodyear to develop the front tyres. Because of that, Project 34 has probably never unlocked its real potential. The car proved its competitiveness more in recent years after winning some race events and even gaining the Thoroughbred Grand Prix title in 2000.

Tyrrell’s mechanics rebuilding a 007 into the P34 prototype

The last time two Tyrrell P34s hit the same track was earlier this year, during filming for the next F1 movie Rush, a story about Niki Lauda and James Hunt's battle for the 1976 F1 world championship title. Two original cars - Chassis P34/2 and Chassis P34/6 - were bought to recreate the atmosphere of that era and to enhance the accuracy of the film. Chassis P34/2 was the first real P34, as Chassis no.1 was just a prototype designed on a standard Tyrrell 007. The car was raced by Patrick Depailler during 1976 season and two of the opening races of 1977 Championship. Chassis P34/6 was raced only six times by the Swedish driver Ronnie Peterson in the last six races of the 1977 season. For Rush, the car was adapted to look like a 1976 car.

The movie is directed by Ron Howard, two-time Oscar winner for A Beautiful Mind (Best Director and Best Picture), also known for directing other Hollywood blockbusters like Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code and Apollo 13.

After three-months of intensive work, Rush is now in post-production and is expected to be released in Spring 2013.

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