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Historical Racing Car :

Tyrrell P34

To hold three trump cards
Tyrrell P34
02/01/2019 -


"Inspiration is the impact of an event on an open mind". Thus Louis Pasteur provided the needed condition for new important scientific discoveries and for the progress deriving from it. Of course, the world that was moving round Formula one in the 70's was not so noble as the scientific one, but it was permeated by the same philosophy of a continuous search for a change. It's not by chance that it was one of the most creative period in the history of this sport, also in virtue of regulations that were not so strictly restrictive and detailed as the present-day ones. Making a comparison between periods we discover that today's the technician has a wider range of materials and implements at his disposal for the work, but he is often to be satisfied with micro revolutions involving single sectors, even when he is not obliged to conform his product to the average. At that time there was much more empiricism, but revolution really deserved the name and involved the concept of the racing car. Obviously, not every time that we cried to revolution, this one has brought to a convincing success, such as to push the competition to same technical choices: this is the case of the Tyrrell P34, the only car having four front wheel steer in the Formula 1 story. However. it is an attempt that deserves to go along it again in its entirety, not only for the originality of proposed solutions but also for the competitive career characterized by a fairly good success, at least as far as its first season is concerning, the 76's, when it really seemed that six-wheelers should make part by force of the technical background of the top formula and generally specking of the motor racing.

The theory

"The Event", first of all mentioned by Pasteur in his famous sentence. We instinctively wonder what stirring up event pushed Derek Gardner, the Tyrrell's successful designer, the inventor of the single-seater cars that led Jackie Stewart to win, to turn his back on his sound reputation of expert, rather conservative, to follow an original as well as risky idea like the four-wheel steer one. Not to mention the task to persuade a man, keeping both feet on the ground like Ken Tyrrell, to pay 34,000 pounds in 1975 to build the first prototype of the car and follow what, in every respect, seemed to be really foolish. Unfortunately, history did not leave any trace of such event, but we are in a position to reconstruct the line of reasoning that made Gardner conceive his creature. In September 1975, when his new car was presented to the press, the English designer had wide space to explain his ideas, just starting from the problems intended to be solved and which were mainly two. The first one was derived by the lack of an effective alternative to the eight cylinder Cosworth on the market of racing car engines, in common with almost any English race team: "Today, on F1 cars mounting the Cosworth engine, the problem is given by aerodynamics, as now the rating that this engine can offer (480 hp against 500 hp approx. of the 12-cylinder Ferrari) is well known by all of us and what's more it will be difficult to get a higher power". "Therefore, aerodynamics like a necessary field where to look for a performing advantage over competitors, but also second source of troubles. In particular, Gardner had concentrated his analysis on the drag produced by uncovered wheels: the English designer reckoned that the only front wheel trim of the Tyrrell 007 ( the 1975 single-seater) was responsible for the 12% of the total drag. The possible solution studied by Gardner envisaged the front wheels to be tucked completely behind a front fairing or a "chisel shaped" nose, reducing the track, the contact patch and diameter of the tyres so as to remain inside the sizes foreseen by regulations. This solution opened the door to new troubles due to the lack of adhesion and handling qualities because of the reduced size of the front wheels. Hence the need of doubling the front wheels to recover lost values. Thanks to the new front configuration, that permitted the airflow to rush without disruption up to the standard rear wheels, Gardner reckoned to gain additional 40 hp of the engine and to improve 20% of aerodynamics. By the terms of performance they counted on a higher peak speed and thanks to the doubling of tyres, on a consequent major road adhesion, efficient braking, besides an increased cornering ability when entering and going out of curves.

From the thought to the shape

To reproduce ideas and calculation on a prototype was an expensive and hard task: the car was shown to the press at a downtown London hotel, on 22 September 1975, the car took advantage of back wheels of a crashed 007 car, combined with an aluminium closed monocoque. The bodywork on its frontal area was dominated by a great chisel shaped nose (full-width prescribed: 1500 mm) that folded the two front axes featured by a track of only 1260 mm. It seems that it wasn't a big problem to convince Goodyear to produce a 7.5/16/10 front tyre in addition to the 13" standard one. The true troublesome problem was to design a suspension and a steer able to make the two wheels working correctly, besides the need of some miniaturized components like the brakes. As for the suspension diagram they chose to match the two wheels on tandem with the aluminium upper arms, angled by tubular bars. Each wheel was equipped with shock absorber spring, small coaxial units, purposely built by the Koni co. The antirolling bar was instead in common with the two axes. Rack-and-pinion steering gear directly acted on the first axis and by means of an intermediate control system on the second one. At first, at least, there was not a different steering ratio between the two matches. As for the braking system, the Tyrrell company worked in close touch with the Lockheed, by that time the main supplier on the market: they built particular 8 inch.Ø disks, cooled by a single ramming intake on the nose, while for callipers they started with small standard Mini Cooper callipers built in the hub holders. To obtain a balanced braking the callipers were positioned before the disk on the first axle and behind it on the second one. That way they tried to avoid the differentiated locking of the two wheel trim with a repercussion on the length of the wheelbase: if the first axle jammed the car should have been longer, if, on the contrary, the second axle jammed the wheelbase should have been shorter. Tanks, made by rubber coated cells of Marston type, were placed behind the driver and on the car sides. The engine was a conventional 8 cylinder Cosworth DFV 90° angled among the cylinder heads, that at the time produced 480 hp at 10500 rpm. Mounted with supporting function, was matched with a five gear, plus reverse, Hewland FG 400 geabox, while Borg & Beck clutch was of the dry two-disk type (7.4"ø) hydraulically controlled. Water cooling was assured by Serk radiators, lengthwise level positioned with the engine so as to concentrate the load around the barycentre, while the small oil radiator was secured to the rear wing support. The bodywork was made in fibre-glass, reinforced and separated in many elements: nose, cockpit, side panels and the generous oval airscope that left the cylinder heads uncovered. There were two windows in Plexiglas on the cockpit sides to favour the driver to locate the front obstructions of the car.

Doubts and prejudices

"I am convinced that it will be a revolutionary car, that will make the opponents spend a lot of money and they will have to conform to, whether practice is favourable to theory. That was Derek Gardner's trustful statement to the P34 introduction. Trustful but not enough to convince the F1 world of the excellence of a so daring project as to raise inevitable doubts. First step at that time for specialized magazines was to learn the opinions of the most popular Gardner's colleagues, finding out a rather conspicuous and common scepticism: Keith Duckworth, one of the two partners of Cosworth company, appeared not very convinced. Harvey Postlethwaite, a young and talented technical director of the Hesketh, understood the grounds of the project but did not believe that advantages got on paper were confirmed on track: first there was an objective difficulty in the set up, secondly he recalled the inevitable troubles of overheating due the higher speed of the small front tires rotation. Same position on this problem was taken by Gordon Murray of Brabham, who glossed: "On the contrary it will be a good car on the snow " . Peter Warr was substantially neutral to those comments: on the other hand Lotus had already other fish to fry with the same innovative but fragile JPS 77. Ray Brimble (Embassy-Hill) was sure of the troubles for steering adjustment besides the handling difficulty, evoking the memories of the tight and tortuous circuit of Monaco. As for Teddy Mayer, the boss of McLaren, the idea was good as a concept, but the difficulties for its development seemed huge. On the contrary, before scepticism Frank Williams placed the hope that such idea did not work, because, otherwise, for competitors a six months'delay at least would have occurred. The press also made the greatest possible use of articles, comments and gossips: it's worth summing up the logical analysis that Mario Coppini made to Autosprint readers, a few weeks before the presentation. First of all Coppini refused the word revolution, preferring evolution as a much less resounding expression: the continuous widening of tyre section, the prescribed limit established on the track, fixed in 2150 mm, caused designers to be faced by less and less zone where to arrange suspensions. Gardner, even with opposing points of view with respect the general trend to widen the track, did nothing but stress the increasing importance of tyres. Getting to the heart of the matter, in Coppini's opinion, the track reduction made by Gardner offered a substantial advantage for aerodynamics without doing negative effects on the attitude and the resistance to roll when cornering, since the minor distance between the wheels and a more reduced contact patch of tyres was compensated by the double axles. Practically, as a car corners there are two opposite forces acting: centrifugal force engages barycentre, while centripetal force acts on the contact area between tyre and roadbed. The wider is the track the greater is centripetal force and therefore the offset with centrifugal force, that causes the performance of the single-seater when cornering. With double axis, the values of the track and of the contact patch may be accumulated, Gardner had recovered and restored that offset. Rather than that, the trouble seemed caused by the adhesion increase: advantages offered by doubling the surface in contact with asphalt was conditioned by the ratio between the steering angles of the twin front wheels. Coppini was amazed by the fact that on P34 wheels steered with same ratio, when theory (already widely applied to industrial vehicles) prescribed a major steering angle on the first axis. Another doubt concerned the operative temperatures of small front tyres, submitted to major flexures for time unit and subject to the interaction between the two sets of tyres and the effects of fairing. Moreover, to have obtained a clean aerodynamic flow on the front wheels did not solve the problem completely, because on the rear the conventional 19-inch big wheels were left : now it sounded quite natural to Coppini to wonder whether next step should not be to reduce the size of rear tyres and to double the rear wheels.


Let's get to the point, everybody started waiting for the only true reliable response: the track. In October 1975, the new creature ran first laps in the small racing circuit of Silverstone driven by Patrick Depailler, the French driver at once declared himself for the new creature. Car didn't seem to give any particular trouble, least of all the fearful overheating of front tyres. Silence till November, when Jackie Stewart got into the cockpit of the P34 at the circuit of Le Castellet: for the first time after his retire, the Scottish driver got into a F1 car, but it was not a return to races, but only on the occasion of a filmstrip shot for the Elf, main Tyrrell sponsor. After four slow laps, he got out from the single-seater showing an irrepressible enthusiasm: the car was very easy to handle and didn't give any particular trouble. Great Jacky stated that P34 was ready to win the 1976 Championship. However, the Scottish driver was above all an image man, everybody knew that, and as he was such a man nobody could speak ill of the company that sponsored him so generously. The truth was that the car was "whipped" in neither of the two tests. From that time on P34 have become a Cinderella, to the point that we were entitled to believe all that a colossal bluff for publicity given by Elf, the giant oil industry. Actually Tyrrell started championship with the old 007, that even though making a good impression, by now showed all its limits. Everybody knew only that the P34 was under developing, but its debut continued to be delayed. Then on the eve of the Spanish G.P. at last a P34 was finally entered but for Depailler only, while Jody Scheckter would have run with the old single-seater. The car transported to Jarama showed the signs of a hard work of development and tuning made during winter, so much as to deserve to be dubbed P34/2 . The new single-seater was not a hybrid as the former: The frame had been completely redesigned by using new titanium alloys, metal also used to build suspensions. Moreover, sizes had been changed: the wheelbase was reduced from 2453 to 2333 mm on the first axle and from 1933 to 1890 mm on the second one. The front track was slightly lifted from 1160 to 1200 mm, while the rear one remained at 1500 mm. After all, the car was now shorter (4070 against 4320 mm) and lighter (575 against 601 kg). They worked hard to increase security, getting new absorbing areas on the front side. The chisel shaped nose, main section of the project, had been deeply changed: first of all was wider, shorter and more shaped than the former. Secondly it held also the oil radiator, moved from the front wing support in order to improve the load distribution. Two small symmetric NACA intakes delivered fresh air to all four front brakes, equipped with new self-ventilated discs. Finally a big work has been made to adjust the twin-axles, that during early performances had caused understeering troubles, in particular a more correct ratio of the steering angles had been found, by increasing the ratio of the first axle slightly. For the future, it was envisaged a new rear suspension, not yet used so as not to add too many unknown variable values in the analysis of data on track, just in a so particular step as the entry into competition. All the same, the rear chassis had been redesigned according to the new chassis. As for the front tyres, at that time the Tyrrell's designers didn't pointed out any problem in the developing stage, but later on some mishaps had happened: overheating and too much tread ovalization because of centrifugal force, which followed as a result the rubber coming out of the rim. Everything was in order for the race, but when arrived at Jarama they realized to their great surprise that Tyrrell was not in line with the new regulation, that just in Spain had to come in force. In particular, the nose had to be rebuilt, by shortening it and recovering the load by the use of a splitter, while the oil radiator necessarily returned to its original position, on the rear wing support. Comparative practices had then pointed out the airscope short efficiency, which, therefore, had been eliminated, leaving completely uncovered the V8 Cosworth. After making these last changes the P34 car was finally ready to join the fight.

1976: Year "zero"?

The 1976 season was started with scarce certainty and many doubts for Tyrrell. On one hand 007 had became mature, but we didn't expect too much of it. On the other hand a new single-seater that was developed late. On one hand, again Patrick Depailler, plucky sufficiently, regular, but above all gifted with an exceptional sensitivity to the car tuning, in opposition to young Jody Scheckter, without any doubt, gifted with talent but not yet so steady in performance and being in friction with Ken Tyrrell, to the point that there was a rumour of his possible replacement since the beginning of the season. Up to Jarama Depailler had accumulated victories, second (Brazil), ninth (South Africa) and third placed (West USA), while Scheckter had scraped up a fifth, a fourth place and a track leave. Ferrari cars dominated with Ragazzoni and Lauda and the new season seemed featured by the dominium of the red cars of Maranello, just as it had occurred in the previous year. A possible inconvenience could come from Hunt at the wheel of McLaren M23, still with a good performance, in spite of age, Lotus was still going through a complete crisis with a JPS 11 that did not want to hear about being together: this time Colin Chapman, with his mania to lighten and find odd solutions, seemed he had gone beyond objective limits and had already paid for the controversial dropping out of Ronnie Peterson from Interlagos, the first GP season. Thus the Swedish driver had put the market of drivers in motion since the beginning, and there was some talk of his possible passage to Tyrrell, in Scheckter's place. At the end Ronnie got married with his early team, March, leaving Lella Lombardi. As said before, at Jarama they lined up a single P34/2 for Depailler and the checks, made on track, appeared to be immediately positive for the new single-seater: on starting grid the French driver succeeded in gaining the third position stopping chronometer at 1'19"11 against 1'18"52 of Hunt pole. In race McLaren flew away, but Depailler succeeded in keeping the fourth place till when, after leaving the track, was prematurely eliminated before the end of the race. Scheckter at the wheel of the 007 didn't get much more, because very soon the engine left him in the lurch. The victory was gained by Hunt, followed by Lauda, Nilsson and Reutemann, but the racetrack verdict was resumed by sporting regulations that disqualified Hunt and Laffite (Ligier) on account of the irregular sizes of their single-seaters. Finally, from Zolder also Scheckter had his P34, but he paid for his major inexperience compared with his team-mate: his time of 1'19"27 (the pole went to Lauda with 1'18"55) won him the seventh grid position. In race he made an ingresing comeback to the fourth place, tailed by Amon, who, probably obstructed by the South African driver, overturned with his Ensign. Last laps were a real torment to Jody, who had some troubles for the cracked chassis. Depailler. started from the fourth grid position, held out to the 28th lap before his engine failed. Now it's worth reporting Jody Scheckter's feeling after his first GP at the wheel of P34: the South African driver did not conceal difficulties met in finding the apex of corners and a correct perception of dimensions. However, Jody was fully conscious of the minor space needed by his car to corner and the possibility to step on the gas going out of the corner. Besides, the P34 needed to be gently driven on the straights; after all, Scheckter seemed to move on ….. ROLLER SKATES! In Monaco everybody expected a poor performance: it was difficult to think of a six-wheeler to run skilfully between the narrow walls and the winding track of Monaco circuit. Conversely, from practices the Tyrrell two drivers appeared to be at their full ease: Scheckter finished fifth at 1'30"55, while Depailler was fourth at 1'30"33 (Lauda on pole at 1'29"65). On starting Patrick and Jody held their position, but after few laps the French driver found himself with a seriously damaged wheel; he went on with his race but he had to content himself with the control of the situation, he let his team mate go on and gave up to Ferrari driven by Ragazzoni. Ahead, Hunt freed the second place on account of the engine failure, while Rega, never satisfied, put Scheckter under pressure who resisted splendidly. Finally it was the Swiss driver ho paid, going against the wall at Rascasse. The score: Lauda was first, Scheckter second and Depailler third. The escalation of P34 performance began by worrying competitors. In fact, on the following race also taboo of victory was shattered; small front tyres of P34 awfully well suited for the low temperatures of the Anderstop Swedish circuit. Scheckter was at once more skilled in taking advantage of the situation, gaining the pole position at 1'25"659, while Depailler came fourth on grid at 1'26"362. In race the leader role seemed to be assigned to Andretti, then the penalization for starting before the time, relegated him to lower places and the first place newly fell into Scheckter's steady hands up to the finishing line, followed by Depailler and Lauda. Ferrari cars' dominium was finally interrupted and the most serious competitor seemed to be just Tyrrell, while Hunt was in trouble at a distance driving a McLaren in crisis. At Paul Ricard we were prepared to another dominium of Ferrari cars, while Depailler was placed third and Scheckter, scarcely at ease on the French racing circuit, was left behind placing ninth. In race Ferrari cars both found themselves no longer competing for their engine failure after making the impression, above all on Lauda, of being in a position to dominate the race. Hunt won, followed by Depailler, who had got to work to restrain a completely wild Peterson, providentially stopped by the petrol pump of his March. On the contrary Scheckter finished sixth. In July the bomb exploded for the cancellation of Hunt disqualification occurred in Spain, which had deprived him of win: score had a stir letting Lauda be in the lead with 52 points, followed by Depailler 26, Scheckter and Hunt tied with 25. The right moment for Tyrrell to attack, but who knows the dark reasons why things were slowly taking another turn. In Great Britain, on Brands Hatch circuit, still fog for Scheckter, only eighth in practice, while Depailler had ten seconds' lead over him and was placed sixth. Ferrari with Lauda was alone, there in the lead, followed by the McLaren driven by Hunt. In race cards shuffled: Lauda bumped into Ragazzoni and the Swiss driver's car took off and ended up by throwing the competitors behind him into confusion. Therefore, there was a second start, but Lauda was still left on foot because of the engine and Hunt took quickly advantage of it to gain the race. Scheckter, found the key to the skein to get a decent position, moved successfully up to the second place. On the contrary, for his team mate was an ordeal: bothered by the engine troubles, he went down to the thirteenth place, when his Cosworth decided to say him good bye definitively. Hunt's win was then cancelled because the McLaren's driver, who had seen his car crumbling because of Ragazzoni's flight, for the second start he got into the spare car instead of his repaired single-seater. Next German GP went down in history mainly for Niki Lauda's awful accident, Scheckter got the eighth place on grid and Depailler, more efficient, the third one. In race, after a wet start and one only lap, they all were obliged to rush to pit stop to mount the tyres for the dry ground. Afterwards there was the tragic crash of the Ferrari number one, that compelled the race direction to stop the motor race. After the second start it was Hunt's turn to fly away, followed by Jody Scheckter, both clever under the stress of that dramatic event. Depailler, less clear minded, ended by leaving the track. In Austria on the very fast circuit of Zeltweg, Ferrari cars were absent from the race, Hunt was the leader of the qualification, while Scheckter and Depailler were respectively placed tenth and thirteenth. If in practice they were not successful, in race they ran even worse: Scheckter, after dominating for the most of the first part and taking also the lead of the race, wasted everything by leaving the track disastrously and tearing his car suspensions into pieces. Conversely, Depailler tried to survive the mid group fight where he found himself caught, but he got a violent blow on the frontal part by crashing into the Surtees driven by Brambilla, and his race was also stopped by a broken suspension. Watson, at the wheel of his Penske, won unexpectedly, followed by Laffite, in a more and more efficient Ligier-Matra, and by Gunnar Nilsson. Hunt was only the fourth arrived. At that moment the drivers' market was newly put in motion and the man, who was the centre of attention, seemed to be Ronnie Peterson, once again: there was some talk of him to be engaged by the Ferrari and by Tyrrell companies, for the former it was the replacement of the injured Lauda, who energetically denied every rumour, from his bed in hospital, about his possible dropout of races; for the latter it was a matter of relieving Scheckter's seat, driver who was judged a man of changeable character by Ken Tyrrell. The Dutch GP was another occasion for a P34 dull performance: the team seemed to lose the key of reading to promote the development and after a promising start, the performance climbing was stopped. Depailler, fourteenth in practice, at the race end succeeded in being classified seventh; Scheckter was little better, placed eighth in practice and fifth in race. The win was gained by Hunt, who was free, as Ferrari cars were absent, to run far and wide. The two Tyrrell's drivers could give up all hopes of winning the World Championship. Monza was a rather lively GP for different reasons: first of all Lauda returned to races after the accident, while his team was obliged to line up a third car also for Reuteman, at the beginning recruited for Niki's replacement and then kept to "flunk" Ragazzoni. Meanwhile, Scheckter's contractual situation was by then clear, next year he would have passed to the newborn Wolf to leave his place to Peterson at Tyrrell's. Practices were characterized by the rain and by the McLaren and the Penske of Watson, disqualified for petrol not in accordance with the regulations. Pole position was gained by Laffite, while Scheckter found himself second and Depailler fourth. At the GP start the driver who scored the fastest time was just the South African driver, who led the race for ten laps, when he was overtaken by an irresistible Peterson. Therefore Jody had also to let his team mate pass, and finally they both had to yield to Ragazzoni, Laffite and Lauda. Score: Scheckter fifth and Depailler sixth. In Canada Scheckter was placed seventh on grid and on the following day he finished fourth, while Depailler missed his career opportunity : placed fourth from practices, he was the author of a very good race that saw him driving behind Hunt. If only the French driver had had more self-confidence he might have overtaken the McLaren's driver, stricken by exhaust poisoning gas, and win his first GP. In the GP of the States he was still second, but this time the leader of the performance was Jody Scheckter, behind Hunt. On the contrary, Depailler was left without car because a fuel pipe failure. At last they landed in Japan, the last race of Championship, above all it was the decisive one to be a world champion: Hunt or Lauda? The pole position went to Lauda, while our two heroes in their six-wheel cars were getting by: Scheckter was placed fifth, while Depailler was swimming behind with the thirteenth time. Then, at the race starting, there was a mess due to a flood of biblical dimensions, Lauda drove only for a few laps, then he dropped out of the race giving rise to many polemics. Andretti won, followed by a very effective Depailler and by Hunt, who became world champion with one point's lead over the Austrian opponent. Scheckter, conversely, dropped out of the race because of overheating problems. By the end of season, the P34 had found a higher competitiveness, but it was always too late to move in to the attack of championship. Gardner and his team, however, had not too much to complain about: to have driven a car, so radically new and in need of development, to win was not a trifle, as well as to gain the third place in the constructors' title, after Ferrari and McLaren.

Sceptical and half convinced people

On the occasion of Monza GP, Autosprint, the weekly magazine, repeated the opinion round on the P34, already made after its introduction. First it is necessary to point out that inside the team early enthusiasms were gradually fading away, even if confidence was still alive in a further possibility of working out a project. For the first time drivers put down their rose-coloured glasses to underline that the car had certainly an advantage in the entering speed on cornering, but then the drag was missing on going out of the corner, when the car did not tend even to understeer. Derek Gardner again went along the main problems dealt with in the development stage of the car that, in any case, had no had radical changes. At the beginning they met several difficulties in finding a small nose in accordance with the regulations in force and at the same time an effective one from the aerodynamic point of view. However, a lack of negative lift on the front wheel trim had been noticed to which they had tried to avoid with a longer nose (Belgium), then rejected because on braking it scraped off on the asphalt. Therefore they returned to a shorter configuration, recovering the load by various devices, such as a lower splitter that was adjustable in length to change negative lift. But, in Gardner's opinion, the real problem was the lack of previous data and experience in order to immediately find the ideal attitude in every racetrack and under any condition. Gardner colleagues and competitors' opinions are also interesting: according to Gordon Coppuck, McLaren manager, the advantage of the P34 project was more in contact patch than in handling qualities. As far as the aerodynamic advantage obtained on the front wheels, he observed that it was cancelled by the aerodynamic brake made by the rear wheels, left unchanged. Eventually, the P34 was nothing else but a way to obtain the same results from a traditional single-seater. Mauro Forghieri was very prudent in his judgement: from the technical point of view he thought that Gardner had found a good solution to improve front aerodynamics, but nevertheless it was always a car to be hardly suited for all tracks and it had to require a remarkable setting up. Forghieri did not even neglect the commercial aspect, so beloved by his boss: "How could we build a six-wheel car and say to our customers that four-wheels are sufficient?" Gordon Murray persevered in his scepticism: "From aerodynamic aspect there is a slight advantage as for penetration, although they benefit much more from handling quality than from higher speed and I think that they are so surprised about that as well as all the others. Tony Southgate (Lotus team) stressed that the advantage was not so much in aerodynamics, as everybody was thinking, but in other factors which had to be still searched. Besides, it should be considered the heavier weight of the two supplementary wheels, countertendency in respect of the others that favoured lightness. Harvey Postlethwaite (Wolf) remarked project originality and effectiveness of the obtained results, but at the end he liked to think of other simpler ways to get a higher performance. In effect, the '77 season would have proposed a set of novelties to distract everybody's attention from the P34.

1977: Counter-revolution

For the Tyrrell team in 1977 the first novelty was Ronnie Peterson' s arrival to substitute Jody Scheckter. The very fast Swedish driver, a real artist of racing circuits and very skilful in the technique of braking with his left foot, by now in common with most of F1 leaders. After a controversial divorce from Lotus at the beginning of the '76 championship, he had run an excellent race season at the wheel of March, driving a paltry single-seater to the first place in the Italian GP. After so many delusions, Ronnie hoped to find in Tyrrell P34 a racing car that was up to his ability. Derek Gardner tried to satisfy Ronni's wishes developing P34, above all its streamlined profile, by studying a neat and rounded bodywork covering all mechanic parts and the chassis. The study of airflows had caused the bodywork to be built oversized with respect to the real car dimensions and to secure it to the chassis they were obliged to use some rubber spacers. The V8 Cosworth, moreover, hidden under a fibreglass skin, breathed through two Naca air ducts located on the cockpit sides, while cooling was assured by longitudinal twin packed radiators on both sides of the single-seater. There was also a novelty as far as sponsors were concerned: dark blue of the Elf was reduced to leave room to the white colour of the First National City Bank. The funny thing is that P34 is more known to the public in the last version than in the previous one. The new car was developed by Patrick Depailler, the tough driver, who at Le Castellet, during winter practice, stopped chronometer at the extraordinary time of 1'46"6, lower than 1"2 of Lauda's record broken during the '75 GP. Well, everything couldn't be better, but of course competitors did not stay there twiddling their thumbs and in Argentine, first season GP, things turned for the worse. As Depailler was placed third on grid, Peterson was fourteenth in great straits, having difficulty in finding the right feeling with the new single-seater. At the start signal Brabham driven by Watson flashed past Hunt, the pole man, while Depailler was taken by the group, and his single-seater began suffering an overheating of mechanical parts. As for Peterson things changed also for the worse, because his car ended by spinning right round. Scheckter won at the wheel of his up-to- date Wolf, followed by Brabham driven by Pace and Ferrari by Reuteman. In Brazil Depailler was still before Peterson on the starting grid (placed sixth against eighth), but in race a double retire was reported: under heat conditions the very fast curve 3 was changed into a cemetery of single-seaters. They ended there in the following order: Pace who was in the lead of the race, Mass (McLaren) involving the Einsign driven by Ragazzoni, and the P34 of Peterson. Then it was the turn of Depailler, Brambilla and Laffite, finally followed by Watson, who ended the awful pileup by crashing. Ferrari won driven by Reuteman, followed by Hunt and Lauda. In South Africa they tried to turn their back to bad luck: Depailler third on grid, confirmed his position on the finishing line, behind Lauda, who was again the leader, and usual Hunt. Peterson seventh in practice, suffered the umpteenth retire because of troubles to the feeding of his Cosworth. Same trouble obliged his car to drop out of the race on next Long Beach GP, while constant Depailler was placed fourth, in a race dominated by an exceptional trio: Scheckter at the wheel of a Wolf, Andretti in the Lotus JPS 78 and Lauda at the wheel of a Ferrari. The Ital-American driver got the better of his opponents and the press began writing down the mysterious mazes of the ground effect, Colin Chapman's last bright idea, neglecting the less and less competitive P34. In fact at Jarama, where only a year before the first and promising six wheel single-seater made its debut, the members of Tyrrell team declared that they were passing through a crisis, but also their incapacity for finding any solutions to difficulties: for the single-seater they complained the lack of small front tyres working out, but Good Year had no resources to go on with that work, choosing to concentrate its efforts on standard types and to get ready for next debut of Michelin tyres. Tyrrell's designers were therefore obliged to look for solutions in other fields, without really knowing where to get started on that job: suspensions or aerodynamics? Meanwhile Depailler and Peterson were racking their brains on an unstable single-seater when braking, that did not consent to accelerate and go faster coming out of corner, In practice the French driver was placed 10th and the Swedish driver 15th , in race Ronnie finished eighth, while Patrick was obliged to abandon because his engine broke down: meanwhile there was more and more ground effect, with Andretti and Lotus still first to cross the finishing line. In Monaco Peterson succeeded in placing fourth on grid, but in race he had to retire because of troubles to brakes and transmission. This latter also caused Depailler to drop out of the race, who was eighth at the start of the race. Scheckter won at the wheel of a Wolf in Belgium, on the very fast Zolder circuit, finally a Swedish driver went up to the top of the podium, but his name wasn't Peterson, but Gunnar Nilson, Andretti's team mate at the Lotus. All the same. Ronnie did not go bad: eighth in practice, he survived the change of tyres after the first laps in a heavy shower and then to go up to the third place. Things came to a bad end for Depailler, only eighth on the finishing line after placing fifth on the grid on Saturday. In Sweden, where in 1976 the P34 had run up his only success, Depailler had to be content with the fourth place, while Peterson was left again without his car because of troubles for ignition system. It was Laffite who won in a Ligier. Having to run in France, it might be the case to pop over to Lourdes, as for Tyrrell P34 safety could only come from a supernatural power. On the contrary, they went to Dijon and they were given a good hiding: Peterson 17th during practice, succeeded in placing 12th in race, thanks to propitiatory rites. Depailler, 12th in practice, didn't get even the consolation to cross the finishing line because he went off the track beforehand. Andretti won, mocking Waston at the last lap, who ran out of petrol. At Silverstone another massacre: Peterson, 10th in practice, was betrayed by the engine, while Depailler 15th place on grid, retired for troubles to brakes. It was just on the occasion of the Great Britain GP that turbo engine Renault RS01 made its debut fitted with Michelin radial carcass tyres: years after it was said that if P34 had mounted this type of tyre, things might have been better, as they would have shown less the effect of tread ovalization at high rotation speeds. At that moment, however, it was not only a failure of performance, given that also reliability failed. In any case a last attempt was made to provide a remedy for P34: oil radiators were moved from rear wing support, setting them in the nose and tread was widened to improve road-holding.But in this way, all theory involving the creation of a single-seater was basically failed. In Germany, on the up-to-date circuit of Hockenheim, intended for the old Nurburgring replacement among the holy temples of speed, Peterson was ninth, while his team mate Depailler had the engine broken as well as Laffite, Andretti and Nilson. Lauda won followed by Scheckter and Watson. In Austria, two Tyrrell cars crossed again the finishing line, thanks also to Cosworth engines that on this occasion did not breathe their last for the strain: Peterson pluckily gained the fifth place, collecting a score that came to nothing. Less effective Depailler, only 13th. In the tulip land, on the Zandvoort circuit, things went on badly. In a race rather full of events for the skirmishes between Hunt and Andretti that caused the English driver to drop out the race, and a splendid Lauda overtaking Laffite, who was already looking forward to the cup of victory, the two Tyrrell cars collected a double retire: Peterson for troubles to the ignition system and Depailler for the engine failure. Well, tet's come to Monza with the driver market in a state of full ferment: the divorce between Ferrari and Lauda was now certain and the most reliable driver for his substitution was Mario Andretti. Covered by the red storm, another personage was breaking off his obligations from a racing team with much more discretion: Derek Gardner, the P34's father, left Tyrrell definitely. The race was led by Andretti, followed by Lauda, one point only from his second world title. Peterson gained an honest sixth place on the racing circuit that could be more in agreement with his nature, while Depailler remained in the zone behind the front, crossing the finishing line 14th. The circus moved to the other continent to land in the States, at Watkins Glen : there were gleams of vitality with Peterson who got the 5th time in practice, while Depailler was placed eighth, The race, for the first part in the rain, saw two Tyrrell cars be on troubled waters at the bottom of score, but it gave to Ronny the satisfaction of the fastest lap. Thanks to an honest and strategic fourth place, Lauda won the world championship and divorced from Ferrari abruptly. The substitute's name was not popular, but he would have caused a stir in the years to come: Gilles Villeneuve. In Canada, at Mosport, last P34 tail stroke: Peterson, excellent in practice placed third, had to abandon because of fuel leakage, but Depailler, started from the back positions, succeeded in gaining the second place, in a "rocambolesque" performance, where only seven single-seaters crossed the finishing line. However, the P34 fate was by that time settled: the future Tyrrell 008 would have had four conventional wheels. The story only needs a final bang, and in fact the bang came really up in Japan, the man who came up from nothing, Gilles Villeneuve, took off for first tragic flight of his. During the sixth lap in taking the Devil Curve, Gilles ran violently into the P34 driven by Peterson, to whom the Canadian driver tried to steal the position, after soaring and heavily falling to the ground then he ran over the public that crowded the track sides: two dead and twelve injured. As a matter of fact, we like to think that the true end of the P34 was the third place gained by Depailler.

Tyrrell P34 and the others

It is rather a hard task to draw up a balance on the P34 car. It's difficult to pass the car with full marks and to fail it as well. Probably it represented a complicated answer to a problem that perhaps cannot be considered among the main ones. Besides, other solutions were knocking with force at the door of Formula One: the turbo engine extension would have stirred up a pack of horses, allowing many racing teams to free themselves from the unavoidable choice of V8 Cosworth engine. Ground effect would have highly increased the negative lift of single-seaters, moving aerodynamic research onto other fields. However it deserved a reward for touching a taboo: that a car must have four wheels. The P34 appearance excited imagination of journalists, humorists, technicians and fans: at that time special magazines were full of cartoons, photographs, photomontages, exploded diagrams of mass production and racing cars having six and even eight wheels. Somebody was joking and somebody was serious about it: the Ferrari company, for instance, in 1976 gave Lauda and Ragazzoni a car 312 T2 to test with twin covers on the rear wheels, solution used in the 30's. Driving tests gave good results but the project was put away. In 1977, March presented the 240 (two wheel steering, four rear wheels on tandem, zero differential). After testing on track, Ian Scheckter and Alex Riberio reckoned there was nothing to be gained from that solution, to the point that the car was converted to a traditional four wheels. On the other hand, the project roused the suspicion that, on account of the March finance troubles, Robin Herd and Max Mosley, the team owners, had tried to cause a sensation with the purpose only to amaze and draw new potential investors' attention. The exploded diagram proposed by March 240, was later on taken again into consideration by Williams FW 08B at the end of 1982, but once again the resulting tests on track were not successful and that was the reason why they decided to stop the adventure. However, Williams was still mounting V8 Cosworth: it would have been much more interesting to have two rear axles matched with the absurd and great power of turbo engines and see if it could be a good system to unload such a great power to ground. Certainly somebody would have tried it if FIA had not decided to stop any further experiments, outlawing single-seater construction with more than four wheels.



In particular we are grateful to the Centre of Documents at the Museum of Automobile "Carlo Biscaretti di Ruffa" in Torino for the material of research.







  • A.A.V.V., Autosprint, annate 1975-1976-1977, Conti Editore, Bologna.
  • Coppini M., A quando le otto?, Autosprint, 1975, Conti Editore, Bologna.
  • Montagna P., Il leggendario Gran Premio d’Italia, 1989, A.C. Promotion, Milano.
  • Guzzardi G., Rizzo E., Cento anni di automobilismo sportivo, 2001, Edizioni White Star, Vercelli.
article by Stefano Costantino
Photo Giacomo Zanello

Vai Alla Gallery  Photogallery " Tyrrel P34

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