If there is one sport that deserve more technical detailing than other, more accuracy, more safety and more money, it definitely is Formula One. But as much as the game requires all the aforementioned things, so do it need a constant reworking of the rules of the game, keeping in mind safety and the environment at the same time. And hence, F1 has been one of the most dynamic sport ever since its inception.
During the 1970's, when the popularity of the F1 was at its high, more and more experiments were tried in the game. The ideas were flowing from all across the globe and F1 was a punching bag of all the ideas. But none were as hard hitting as the concept of a six-wheeled F1 car. Sound crazy? Yes, this was indeed a crazy idea for the manufacturers at that time also, let alone today, when we are more technologically advanced.
Conceived by designer Derek Gardner, the strange idea got a supporter in the form of Elf Tyrreell Racing who was willing to try it. The idea was simple, to run the car on six wheels, instead of more traditional four wheels, to increase traction and hold during curves and braking at high speeds. Tyrreell was not a new team, but a successful team at that very point of time. With Sir Jackie Stewart behind the wheel, Elf Tyrreell decided to go for the six-wheeled P34, which made its competitive debut in the 1976 season.
But it was not like the design was just some over ambitious and impractical idea. It had a lot of practical viability in theory. The plan was to put four 10-inches wheels at the front of the car and two standard tyres at the back. This way the surface area of contact will increase, providing better traction and control over car at high speed corners and braking. Also, the smaller wheel would lead to better aerodynamics.
And as was expected by its conceiver, the P34 proved to be a surprising element for the F1 fans. It was not long that p34 tasted success and during the 1976 season it earned 10 podium finishes. The best performance by both the Elf Tyrrell’s two drivers, Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler, came evident at the Swedish Grand Prix, when they achieved 1-2 positions. The team eventually finished third in the Constructors’ Championship title.
What was earlier scrapped off as a foolish idea, was later taken up by many manufacturers, thanks to the success that P34 tasted. The hotshots of that time, Ferrari and McLaren, both experimented with the cars, with their own twist to the design. They both were trying to drive all the four front wheels instead of just steering purposes. While Ferrari put four wheels on a single axle, McLaren puts four small wheels at back to increase traction. Nonetheless, it was only Tyrreell who succeeded in making the car work on track.
But the P34 was not free from faults, and had its own share of problems. It was not good at finishing races, and in F1, finishing matters. The four wheels in front, rotated 1.6 times more than the larger rear tires did over the same distance. This meant an uneven tyre wear and tear, hindering performance significantly. The brakes also faced overheating issues due to fast moving front wheels and the small suspension and chassis problems ensured eight early retirements to go along with its 10 top three finishes.
But it was the next season when the things got worse for the P34. In the 1977 season, the car got totally unreliable thanks to wider and heavier car. This resulted in only 4 podium finishes and 19 retirements for the team. Also, Goodyear, the official tyre supplier at that time invested a lot of resources and time in enhancing the quality of the standard wheels, which were utilized by the rest of the teams, resulting in a lag for the smaller front wheels.
And it didn't take much of the time for the FIA to eventually rule out the use of any car other than having four wheels. The reason cited was linked to the advantage one team was getting due to six wheels. Hence FIA decided to put uniform norms in place, so that no team is far ahead of the others. So that was the end of the six-wheeled racers.
The point raised by FIA was credible. A pinnacle of Motorsport, the F1 works on gains that are measured in millimeters. Aerodynamacists, engineers, designers and metallurgists work tirelessly to help their team achieve the best of the results and giving advantage to any one team, over a technical issue could create a complication among the participants.
Although P34 never got a chance to race again in the F1 circuits, a racing enthusiast named Simon Bull, got hold of a P34 chassis and updated it to meet contemporary safety standards. He added a custom 10-inch Avon tyres and better brakes in the car and raced in the Thoroughbred Grand Prix Championship in 2000, which he won.
But this was just a one-off case and a design like this holds no real hope in modern racing. Nevertheless, the P34 remains one of the most recognizable and unique racing cars in all of Motorsport history. As much as it was beautiful looking car, it was also a radical car in terms of technology.
Story Source: Wired