When six worked better than four

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For a time, Derek Gardner’s unique P34 helped Tyrrell overcome a Cosworth power shortfall*

So what changed so much in the car’s second season? The overriding problem, Gardner said, lay with the front tyres. “By 1977 Goodyear were supplying the whole of F1 but the tiny front tyres were for one team only. Of course every team wanted development, so Goodyear tended to develop the rears and normal fronts and our front tyres just got left. Therefore we were working with developed rears and static fronts: in ’77 that really began to show up, and the advantage of the six-wheel concept was going rapidly out of the window.
“The car was always good on top speed at Watkins Glen it was 8-10mph quicker than anything else but one could take that as read to some degree, because of course the tiny front wheels led to a reduction in drag. And, theoretically, it should have had enormous stopping power, but, as I said, we were hampered there by just gaffing the heat away from the brakes.
“Prior to the ’77 season we spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel, developing as near an enveloping bodyshape as it was possible to do. It provided very low drag but it was also extremely heavy because it was made in glassfibre. Later in the season we had Kevlar bodywork, and that made quite a difference. That was early days for Kevlar.”
Car problems aside, Peterson’s time with Tyrrell was a disappointment in itself. “I liked Ronnie as a driver” said Gardner, “but in terms of reporting back to us what was going on.., he was hopeless. He got in the car and drove it and that was it! Ronnie’s natural way was to drive around a problem, rather than solve it.
“He always had colossal brake pad wear, and I assumed he must be using the throttle and brakes at the same time the kairting technique so I instrumented the car to prove it one way or the other and in fact he never used them together at all! Even so, his brake pad wear was fantastic 50 per cent higher than Patrick’s and I never did find a reason, other than the fact he was simply driving so much on the brakes. Jody’s pad wear had been higher too, because he tended to be rougher with a car, whereas Patrick… became part of it much more. Their driving techniques were completely different.
“The main problem, though, was that we were always suffering from undeveloped rubber at the front. That got worse, to the point that I even hurriedly contrived a wide-track front to try and counteract the problem. I’m not criticising Goodyear their workload was enormous but we’d put the tyres on, and we had nothing to check them against. If other teams had been using them, we’d have been saying, ‘This isn’t working for us is it working for you?”
On the horizon for a time, too, there had been a different engine, and Gardner laments to this day that nothing came of it. “I’d begun to despair of gaffing more horsepower from the Ford, even though the Cosworth people had put away their toys and started to focus on development. The turbocharged Renault V6 was there, and was destined for a Tyrrell. The first thing was to put it in the six-wheeler, without interfering with the race programme, and I hired Maurice Philippe to do that. This was mid-summer in ’77 around the time the Renault F1 car made its debut at Silverstone. The whole thing strongly tied in with Elf they were Tyrrell’s major sponsor, and they sponsored development of the Renault engine.
“That engine had tremendous possibilities. When I saw the power and torque figures on the original, they were mouth-watering I couldn’t wait to get it in the car. Before I left the team, right after Monza, we’d got a mockup engine and a car in an advanced state. I still think that if Renault hadn’t had delusions of grandeur, and simply focused on the engine, they would have had a lot more success, but as it was, they tried to do the complete car…
“Even so, the writing was probably on the wall for a six-wheeled car, because of the front tyre situation. Either something had to be done about that or we had to forget the whole thing.”
In 1978 Tyrrell went back to a conventional car, with which Depailler won at Monte Carlo. And the FIA settled for good and all the question of six-wheelers by banning them…