Overtaken by history
The quick rise and fall of six-wheeled cars in Grand Prix racing
- Mattijs Diepraam
- August 21, 2002; most recent update: August 16, 2011
- Four-wheel drive - The Cosworth F1 car and the history of four-wheel-drive in racing, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Patrick Depailler - Committed to life, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Ronnie Peterson - Super Swede, by Rainer Nyberg/Mattijs Diepraam
- Jody Scheckter - From speeding hazard to sublime finesse, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Tyrrell 006 - Ken's team at the height of its powers, by Mattijs Diepraam
1976 Swedish GP
A childhood dream in action. In the eyes of an 8-year-old a six-wheeled racing machine was the self-styled art of science fiction having become instant reality. A car unlike anything you saw in the street, the P34 hit your imagination like a ton of bricks. And then it won in Sweden, and came second there as well. Its beauty was in the eye of the beholder and had to grow on you, but as a bold statement of progress and modernity it was an immediate success. For that very same 8-year-old boy it was almost a shame when it was soundly overtaken by the car that grown-ups adored and whose effectiveness was hidden beneath those long-stretching sidepods: the Lotus 78.
History usually repeats itself. And Grand Prix history doesn't escape that axiome. When it comes to motor racing technology, there is a definite pattern of rule changes followed by a rush in technological advancements. This is in turn followed by a period of stability, i.e. designers all working in the same direction to make the cars faster and faster, only to be curbed by another major rule change. This usually creates a paradigm shift that works to start the whole merry-go-round of technology anew. It is that period following a regulations change that invariably sees the greatest designers perform at their best, resulting in a huge flurry of widely varying solutions to the same challenge. And it is seldom the inventions that best capture the imagination that win. Four-wheel drive lost out to aerodynamics and wide slick tyres. Six-wheelers had to bite the dust in their battle against ground effects and turbo engines.
A technological paradigm shift doesn't need a rule change per se – although it usually comes in handily, like in the late sixties when the 3-litre formula set off a flood of extremely diverse answers in the effort to gain more traction from the power surge caused by the Cosworth DFV (in itself a winner among several engine design failures, such as the BRM H16). Some of the traction-improving innovations hit a dead end, like four-wheel drive and turbine power. Others, like aerofoils and slicks, provided effective and cost-efficient solutions to the same problem. And it is both effectiveness and cost efficiency – winning over sheer beauty and/or inginuity – that have invariably proven to be the two major arguments supporting any widespread use of technology.
Ten years on, and stability in the 3-litre formula had reached its zenith. The crude aerofoils of the late sixties had become intricate rear wings. Rear-tyre sizes had exploded. The same applied to the cars' frontal area. On the regulations front tea-pot airboxes had just been outlawed, while the safety-inspired deformable-structure rules of 1973 had also brought new levels of chassis stiffness. Furthermore, the oil crisis was among the reasons for teams to standardize around the Hewland 'box and the DFV which, if anything, had become underpowered relative to the advances in mechanical and aerodynamical grip. With Ferrari the only team with the financial capability to go its own way – and rather successfully so – technological progress within the 3-litre formula was in a deadlock during the mid-seventies. Or so it seemed.
Beneath the surface it was boiling. Renault used some smart lateral thinking within the existing set of rules to break the Cosworth kit-car mould by using the hitherto unused 1.5-litre turbocharged equivalency formula. At the same time Colin Chapman hit the jackpot with his ground-effect theory. Although it bombed during the evolution of the 77, Chapman got it right on the 78 and refined it on the all-conquering 79. The arrival of ground effects would hasten the arrival of wind tunnels in Formula 1. This created a more uniform look to Grand Prix cars, eventually to the amount that today's F1 cars, when unpainted, have virtually identical skins.
A mere year before Renault and Lotus would make their first waves, there was another invention that caught the public eye. Remember, this was still at a time you only had a choice of DFV and Hewland. It was also the time when there was still debate over such aerodynamically vital issues as the location of radiators and the shape of the frontal area – should you go wedge or stub? And then Tyrrell designer Derek Gardner came up with a solution that seemed logical in that small frame of time. The six-wheeler.
Pat Clancy Special & Mercedes-Benz T80
In fact, Gardner's was not the first six-wheeler in the history of single-seater racing. In the late forties Indy racing had seen a hideous contraption called the Pat Clancy Special, raced by Billy DeVore in 1948. This was a 4WD machine with power going to two rear axles. It was amazingly quick in a straightline but impossible to get around corners - of which Indianapolis has four. A similar concept was employed in the stillborn 1939 Mercedes Type 80 that undoubtedly would have done miracles in speed record attempts, had the war not interrupted proceedings. The P34 was new and unique in that it had two front axles. And it would remain unique. The concept had been looming in designer Derek Gardner's mind for over a decade, as on the back of his Ferguson-Novi P104 4WD Indycar design of 1964 (see our four-wheel drive story) he proposed a six-wheeled, four-wheel drive version of the car to Andy Granatelli. This would have drive going to the rear wheels and the rear front wheels. One step ahead of everyone's imagination, it never got past the drawing board, allowing the turbine STP Lotus 56s to become Granatelli's revolutionary pet. However, Gardner never let go of the idea.
Although the car would eventually be Gardner's final design for Tyrrell, it had been reared in very much the same fashion as the 001, in the secrecy usually attributed to major manufacturers. Yet this was another example of garagiste innovation, an all-out attempt to win back the territory lost to Ferrari, to gain the unfair advantage within the existing set of rules – just as Renault and Lotus would do only a year later. The theory was that its four tiny ten-inch front wheels would increase mechanical front-end grip – with more rubber on the road – and thus eliminate understeer while at the same time improve cornering and braking. There was another popular theory, centering around the elimination of drag by reducing front-tyre size, but that theory is not quite up to scratch, since the freed airflow only went as far as the huge rear tyres. With the bluff nose almost completely hiding the front tyres it did however mean that Gardner designed an aerodynamically more efficient machine. He thus increased front-end grip and at the same time reduced front-end drag.
When it was revealed it was the instant sensation of the 1976 season. The car was a photo opportunity on wheels – six of them, which was precisely why – and must have given Elf more free publicity in the 1976 pre-season and beyond than it garnered during the whole of 1974 and 1975 by donning the sides of the pretty but traditional 007. The striking new blue-and-yellow livery did the rest.
The Project 34 “prototype” had to gain interest by its six wheels alone, however. In this Silverstone pit lane picture, shortly after its formal introduction, the car still basically looks like a 007 with a peculiar front side attached to it. The 1975-style colour scheme only adds to this impression. After this, the wedge-shaped nose of the 007 was first replaced by a Brabham-style nose and then a full-width stub nose also seen on the Marches of the era, while the sidepods were not yet raised at the outer edges up to the height of the front wheels. Also missing in the pitlane shot were the familiar cockpit-side windows allowing the drivers to see where the front wheels were going.
All of these issues were adressed in testing while Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler started the season in their trusty 007s, the two amassing five and ten points respectively. Meanwhile the first three races had shown that Hunt's M23 was the only car capable of taking on the Ferraris. Back from the overseas events Depailler (who, as opposed to Scheckter, was enthusiastic about the project from the start) was entrusted with the car's debut in Spain, and he immediately qualified it third, with Scheckter languishing in 14th in the 007. Patrick's race ended with an off on lap 25 but he confirmed the car's pace in Belgium by taking fourth on the grid, behind the two Ferraris and Hunt's McLaren, but by the much smaller margin of 0.15s. Jody in his P34 debut placed the car 7th, three tenths adrift of Depailler, but he was the one to record the P34's first finish with a distant fourth behind the V12s of Lauda, Regazzoni and Laffite.
Then came Monaco, where the P34s had pretty much reached their definitive 1976 shape. Here the cars could show their cornering ability against the other DFV cars, notably the M23s, known to be quick on a straight but notoriously worthless on slow circuits. This was confirmed by Hunt qualifying 14th. While the Ferraris were again out of reach in qualifying, the Tyrrells were only separated from them by a typical problem-evasing effort by Ronnie Peterson, placing him third on the grid, although the full-width nose of the March will also have contributed to Ronnie's performance, testimony of Hans Stuck qualifying 6th in his Jägermeister car. The rest of the field was trailing the Tyrrells by at least a second. In the race Scheckter put up a fight against Niki Lauda, finishing second 11s adrift, with Depailler taking the final podium spot. This was looking good.
Roll on Anderstorp and its endless middle-speed corners begging for front-end grip. Here Jody Scheckter took pole ahead of the surprising Andretti and Amon, with Depailler in fourth. In the race the Tyrrells strode imperiously to a crushing one-two after the development DFV of a fast-starting Andretti blew itself up on lap 45. The South African, who when later probed confided that he thought the six-wheeled concept ridiculous, was beaming on the podium. Although Lauda was way ahead in the standings (on 52 points), Jody now was second in the championship (23 points), with Patrick a close third (20 points). Ken Tyrrell had something going here. Would the Stewart years be making a comeback?
In the end, nothing came of it. The Swedish walkover proved to be a fluke, and the cars became mere bit players among the front-runners, with all the attention-grabbing being done by the McLaren team and their slug match with Ferrari, both on-track and off-track. Granted, the high-speed Paul Ricard circuit was perfect for the slippery M23, with Depailler – usually the better qualifier – doing great to take a close second. His team mate went on to score similar fine results amidst controversy at Brands and tragedy at the 'Ring, both tracks better suited to the P34 anyway. But their qualifying form was starting to slip, especially at the Österreichring and Zandvoort, where the cars were expected to perform well. In the North American races both Patrick and Jody came back to take a second place each while at Fuji the Frenchman fought hard to take yet another runner-up spot, ahead of the new World Champion. The overall impression was that the six-wheeler had done reasonably well, especially in the races, but that a normal four-wheeled 007 development would probably have done equally well, perhaps with the exception of the P34's Swedish performance. The car had also failed to qualify upfront consistently while some of the late-season results could hardly be qualified as “encouraging” – in this stage of development you would expect more from a revolutionary design like this to justify its revolutionary status. Instead, the results were probably down to the drivers' talent and perseverance.
The P34s of 1977 sported a distinctively different look. The quaint elegancy of 1976 – to which the team momentarily reversed in the Monaco and Belgian GP of '77 – was lost to efforts from the team to get the tiny front tyres to work. This was all due to Goodyear lagging behind in development of the special tyres – and instead concentrating on its renewed battle with Michelin. With the tiny front tyres not getting up to temperature while Akron's new rears were the soft ones it put up against the French rubber the cars suffered deerly, resulting in desperate measures to dial out the understeer. These attempts were further hampered by the extra weight that came with the concept. Four front tyres also meant four front suspensions and brakes, and a four-wheel steering rack. Elsewhere weight was eliminated, cutting into the strength of the car.
The solution effectively had become the problem. All it meant was that 1977 would become the first season Tyrrell would go without a race win. The cars kept handling badly, and concurrently, would look more awful with every race, culminating in the bulky, heavy monster that Peterson and Depailler had to handle in the late-season North American races. Look at Patrick's P34 in Canada – the front tyres are almost sticking out of their once cosy confinement, while the cockpit surroundings have become whale-shaped and featureless compared to the slim and purposeful looks of the original P34. Even the sponsor names look out of place.
So the less said about the actual results, the better. Except that they were generally lousy. Patrick Depailler was a star to take three podiums with this car (unwieldy looks or not, he took this car to a close second behind former team mate Scheckter in Canada!) while it took Ronnie until a rain-washed race at Zolder to score his first points of the season – in the old-style car!
What had happened? Probably a combination of factors. Front-tyre development was of course critical to the P34's performance, and while the car's pace at best levelled out because of the lack of it, the P34 was effectively overtaken by the ground-effects Lotus 78, the car that should have walked the 1977 championship had it been built more reliably. The new Wolf in the hands of a capable driver was another example of what a simple car could still do, while an inspired James Hunt was able to squeeze yet another competitive season out of the M23. And, of course, in terms of consistency and pace, no-one had been able to outsmart Ferrari and Niki Lauda. All of this would change in 1978 and it is tempting to think of what the six-wheeler concept would have done in the ground-effects era. For one, mechanical grip would have been a lesser issue in a wing car. And second, the narrow-track front tyres would have blocked the free flow of air underneath the chassis and through the sidepods. Conversely, a concept with two wheels at the front and four at the back, all of the same size, would have been a huge advantage, as the smaller rear tyres would have helped in the way of taking the big rear tyres out of the equasion, thus allowing for ground effects that would stretch beyond the rear wheels. In fact, this is exactly what another leading team thought of at the start of the eighties, but we are getting ahead of things now.
After Tyrrell's 1977 disillusion and with Gardner's health deteriorating the designer parted with the team, being replaced by Maurice Philippe of Lotus 72 fame, who was hired by Gardner to adapt the P34 for a shock Renault turbo customer deal that eventually fell through. Philippe designed the 008, which won the 1978 Monaco GP at the hands of Patrick Depailler, but was also responsible for the disappointing 79 and FW07 clones (009 and 010) that led to Tyrrell becoming an also-ran, a downfall that the team never really recovered from, in spite of a few giant-killing performances by Michele Alboreto.
Ironically, with Avon manufacturing new front tyres for the P34, it was given a new lease of life through the efforts of Simon Bull. Precisely twenty years after it was forced into retirement the Antiques Roadshow clock and watch expert took delivery of a 1977-spec P34 raced by Ronnie Peterson.
Since 1996 Bull had been the enthusiastic entrant of an ex-Stewart Tyrrell 005, having become acquainted to Derek Gardner during his time as the owner of the March 712M that gave his loyal racer Martin Stretton the 1994 Historic European Formula Two title. Here, Gary Critcher relates how, having discussed the merits of 005 with Gardner, Bull stumbled on an advertisement for the very car one week later! He bought and rebuilt it for Stretton to win the inaugural FIA Thoroughbred Grand Prix Championship of 1996.
This led to Bull and Stretton targeting a P34 that had lived a dormant life in the hands of Jean-Pierre Jarier. JPJ had received this chassis, P34/6, as a gift after leaving the Tyrrell team. “Jumper” allowed it to be put on display in a French museum before selling it to a German collector. The duo made a deal with the German and managed to interest TGP's control tyre manufacturer Avon into specially producing the front tyres. After a complete rebuild the car was entered for the 1999 TGP season.
As in 1976, the car was an instant hit with the fans. And it was on form too. It started with some promising qualifying and race results (including class wins) before taking an outright win in its fifth races, against much younger and faster ground-effect machinery. But this time, as opposed to 1976, progress didn't halt. Stretton managed to acquire a special feel for the car, and the special Avon tyres really made the car work as it was always supposed to have done. To Gardner it was unfinished business finally reaching full circle. At the end of the season P34/6 had easily won its class of the TGP championship. In the overall standings Stretton was a close runner-up to Bob Berridge in the more sophisticated 1982 Williams FW08B. In 2000 Martin went one better and became the unchallenged TGP champion.
In Stretton's hands the car also proved itself to be an able hillclimber, as could be witnessed at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2000 and 2002. In 2000, Martin's spectacular no-holds-barred style brought FTD to P34/6 while he was only beaten by the mid-nineties 850bhp Toyota Celica hillclimb special of Rod Millen in the 2002 event. It gave everyone present a good impression of what could have been.
The P34 – and certainly its commercial success – inspired other teams to create a six-wheeler of their own, but these would be a six-wheeler in the spirit of the Pat Clancy Special and the Mercedes T80. One was probably never anything more than a pipe dream but the BRM team, very much struggling to survive during the winter of 1976-'77, was rumoured to consider creating a six-wheeler with two wheels at the front and four at the back. It is well possible that the actual work on the car never got started in the first place but Shadow driver Jean-Pierre Jarier was still courted as its intended driver before the Frenchman accepted an offer to drive one of ATS's Penske cars in 1977.
The other one, though, was for real. The March 2-4-0 as it would be called, also had two front wheels and four wheels at the back. The name comes from the lay-out description used for steam railway engines – two wheels at the front, four of similar size at the back and nothing behind that. Could this have been a little joke at the expense of Ken Tyrrell? After all, it was Tyrrell himself who had been the subject of lighthearted corporate wit in this Ford advertisement that used the slogan “What will our Ken think of next?”...
The 2-4-0 was the brainchild of March mechanic Wayne Eckersley, who worked on it night and day, singlehandedly. The base car was a plain 761 with a complete spare parts shop attached to the back. Originally the gearbox casing received heavy strengthening ribs to match the stresses generated by a close-coupled four-wheel drive system. But having already resorted to the weirdest sponsorship scheme ever during 1976, March was on a budget and soon the ribs were scratched and replaced by a plain casing.
It is often rumoured that the two most backward wheels were simply bolted on but had no drive. This may have been true for the original 2-4-0 show car that made frequent appearances in an attempt to raise the amount of publicity needed for March to carry on in F1 beyond the 1977 season. But it won't have been true for the 2-4-0 racing car that consequently became a corker as a hillclimb special, its twin rear axles providing the enormous traction needed for this particular kind of motorsport. In fact, the 2-4-0 was not “a car” as such but a bolt-on kit that would fit any of the 761s or the 771 it was based on. In the hands of hillclimb king Roy Lane a 771 adaptation proved momentarily untouchable in the 1979 British Hillclimb Championship, especially in the wet, even though its main advantage – huge straight-line acceleration – could not be seen on the tight and winding British country roads. Its traction could, however, and it came in spades. With its results 2-4-0 followed in the footsteps of several other of F1's four-wheel drive failures that became a huge success in hillclimbs.
But on its first day of testing on a proper Grand Prix track it was an entirely different story. With Eckersley having gone the economy route, the car suffered gearbox gremlins from the start. This was due to the close-coupled rear axles flexing the rear end to no end. This proved to be a problem in a two-minute hillclimb – its unreliability was the main reason for Lane to abandon the 2-4-0 during 1979 – but it would have been an insurmountable problem in a two-hour race. In fact, the car didn't survive half a lap… This was the result of some smart reporter suggesting the 2-4-0 had been a publicity-minded fake in the first place, with Mosley and Herd responding to the challenge. The normal gearbox casing then provided the embarrassment the reporter had been aiming for – crowns and pinions went to do their own thing within moments of the car getting up to speed. And so to prevent further embarrassment, yes, the drive to the most rear axle was removed when Max and Robin turned to Howden Ganley to do another demo at Goodwood in early 1977. In the wet, Howden was asked to go easy on the throttle, as it wouldn't be hard to convince on-lookers of a scam when the first set of rear wheels was spinning like crazy while the second set emphatically wasn't…
Later, when testing the car with all rear wheels providing drive, Ganley commented positively on the car's traction in the wet at Silverstone. This was based on the 1976 761/5 (which itself also existed as the Lella Lombardi's 751 spare car and was originally 741/1 when it was mainly Hans Stuck's car to use) with a Doug Shierson Racing 76A F5000 nose attached to it for comfort. Shortly after, however, the project was shelved. The 1977 season was on its way and resources needed to be directed elsewhere – the development of the 771 had suffered enough delay already. Ian Scheckter briefly tested a six-wheeler set-up at Silverstone (probably on the back of his regular 761B) but it was unseen on the race tracks after. As it was, the 771 did not appear until the Belgian GP and was an abysmal failure as well, and so their duo of pay drivers (Scheckter and Alex Ribeiro) stood no chance in their uprated 761Bs. Without a Ronnie Peterson on their side Mosley and Herd were virtually pushed towards the customer car supplier life that became Herd's bread and butter for many years to come.
Today, the 2-4-0 show car that was built in 1977 out of 761B/4 is residing in the Louwman Museum in The Hague in the Netherlands. A new 2-4-0 recreation based on the original 2-4-0 rear-end found 'somewhere' was seen at the 2011 Silverstone Classic. In an attempt to recreate the Ganley test-hack look the car featured the 1976 test car's Beta colours and the quaint F5000-style 'New Hero' nosecone. However, when that nose failed to perform properly during Friday's running it was replaced for the rest of the weekend by the Ovoro-liveried chisel nose of the ex-Merzario 761 that has seen some busy historic campaigning in the hands of Peter Dunn.
Roughly at the same time Ferrari briefly tested a “six-wheeler” that reminded of the Auto Union Bergrennwagen and the hillclimb derivatives of the pre-war ERA and Alta GP cars, with twin rear wheels on a single rear axle! It was an off-beat adaptation of the T2, aptly codenamed 312T6 and tested by Lauda and Reutemann at Fiorano during the spring of 1977. “Taking a wide line” could be taken literally with this car, and the rear track will have proven it physically impossible to pass! The idea behind Mauro Forghieri's pet project was probably the reduction of total drag, with front tyres at the back instead of the regularly sized rear wheels – which of course were enormous in the mid-seventies. Another theory might be that Ferrari tried to counter the deformation of the huge rear tyres under cornering. Having two sets of front tyres (specially developed by Speedline) at the back would give a more rigid solution. At the same time Ferrari tested a de Dion suspension with the same aim.
And the prototype was rigid allright, but it was too much of a good thing, at least according to Carlos Reutemann, who got the scare of his life after 11 careful laps of Fiorano, as he told Alan Henry: “At Fiorano there is a hump as you go over the bridge and, when you're really hurrying, the car tends to go light there and come crashing down hard on its suspension. I drove this six-wheeler there for the first time and I suppose I'd managed 10 or 11 laps with it. Then, on the 12th, I was starting to speed up. As I came over the hump, instead of continuing on its normal path, it veered sharp left into the guardrail and burst into flames. Would you believe it happened just at the time Mr Ferrari happened to be driving into Fiorano and everyone was very cool when I got back to the pits. 'Why have you crashed our racing car?', you know, that sort of thing! Well, they repaired it, and a few weeks later I had another try. Obviously, I was much more cautious and, after several laps, I felt something go in the rear suspension as I went over the hump. I drove it slowly back to the pits. It had broken a rear upright. I told them that I didn't particularly want to drive that car again...”
As the T6 wasn't officially put forward to the authorities it was never declared illegal as such, but its width was way beyond the permitted dimensions of a Grand Prix car, so it couldn't have run in anger. Other than that, it sure captured the imagination of several model car builders, just as the P34 and the 2-4-0 had done. Perform an Internet search on any of the six-wheelers and you'll find that the results are swamped by references to model kit cars…
The Italian magazines of the day even printed diagrams of a fanciful project called 312T8 with, you guessed it, eight wheels! To make it almost unworldly, it would have four axles, so a P34 front and a 2-4-0 rear. Of course this car never existed, Ferrari soon admitting to a design exercise to keep their engineers on their toes…
Williams “FW07E” & FW08D
A more serious six-wheeler effort followed a couple of years later – and this time it was introduced to counter the turbo onslaught by Renault, which had lost all of its innocence since it was introduced during the same season that ground effects first made hay. At the end of 1981, amidst the FISA-FOCA turmoil, the Régie had missed out on the title through unreliability alone. The fear was that soon these problems would be eradicated and the Gallic subscription to pole positions would be converted into straight wins. As if that was not enough, Ferrari had also joined the turbo ranks, and while their chassis still lacked much to be desired, their 126C engine was easily rivalling Renault's. And they had Villeneuve, which alone was good to for two wins in Ferrari's first turbo year. Now if they only had a car to match their engine… Well, they would soon get it, now that Harvey Postlethwaite had decided to join them for 1982. Unsurprisingly, Maranello refused Williams' request for a customer Ferrari V6 turbo. Furthermore, FOCA front-runners Brabham were “sleeping with the enemy” since they had embarked on a partnership with BMW. All centering around turbo engines, of course. And this was the close-knit British outfit that took the fight to the “manufacturers” by deliberately stretching the rules beyond their limits to win the 1981 drivers' title. In all, the people at Williams were not happy.
In fact, Frank Williams and Patrick Head were looking ahead at a distinctly lacklustre 1982 season. The British team on the up was definitely the rejuvenated McLaren outfit, with John Barnard's all-new carbon-fibre MP4/1, a car that was so good that it could really compensate for the DFV's lack of grunt. Of the other DFV runners, Tyrrell was in a slump since it had lost its title sponsor. Lotus was out of it since their last innovative design, the 88, had been banned before it could run in anger. Outsiders Arrows had just lost Riccardo Patrese to Brabham, whereas on the continent Ligier had promised a radical design change, with Alfa Romeo also vowing to do away with politics and concentrate on the new 182 and their new signing Andrea De Cesaris. To make things worse, Alan Jones made a very late call to quit after the 1981 season, forcing the Williams team to shop around on the second-hand driver market. They eventually signed Fittipaldi wash-up Keke Rosberg to partner Carlos Reutemann.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. And so Patrick Head set about on a parallel design path. Williams would not only direct their resources to the regular FW08 follow-up, as the FW07 was finally reaching the end of its cycle. The team also embarked on a mysterious six-wheeler project, and by mixing the two projects, Head already accounted for the six-wheeled concept in the FW08 design. The FW08's wheelbase was purposely kept short to accommodate for the forthcoming addition of four-wheel rear drive, which comes close to completely explaining its stubby looks.
This six-wheel set-up would again be four smaller wheels at the back, in a direct effort to improve straightline speed and traction out of corners due to the increased rubber contact, but also to allow the free flow of air along the sidepods all the way to the rear axle of the car. As ground effects were permitted within the wheelbase of the car, Head cunningly interpreted this rule as being from front axle to, well, the most rearward axle! In Head's mind, these would be ground effects almost to perfection. The leading rear axle was placed four inches ahead of its original place, with the driveshafts angled to cope. The most rearward axle was driven by an additional final drive added on the back of the transmission. Hewland provided assistance on the gearbox, using vital experience gained from Lane's 2-4-0 hillclimber.
Alan Jones briefly tested the car at Donington Park, shortly after winning at Las Vegas, but still decided against continuing his career. And so, in November 1981, at a cool but sunny Paul Ricard, Keke Rosberg climbed aboard the six-wheeled FW07 hack, which for reference purposes we shall call the FW07E, as its reported name (“FW07D”) later became the designation for the regular 1982 FW07. Reports in Autosprint magazine led everyone to believe that Keke's times at Ricard were unusually fast indeed, although many warned not to read too much into winter testing times. However, Alain Prost's lap record of 1.04.5 had been set on October 26, just two weeks before Keke and his FW07E lowered it to 1.04.3 on November 7. Jonathan Palmer also tested the car at Croix-en-Ternois in the North of France to see what its performance would be like on a tight and twisty track, and matched the times set by the regular FW07C. Eventually though, the FW07E wasn't used in racing as the team found a major obstacle to its “perfect” ground effects – the lower wishbones of the rear suspension. So Head decided on incorporating this dilemma into the design of the FW08, which as you will remember was predesigned to accommodate six wheels. The FW08 solution used fixed-length driveshafts that would be used as lateral lower location members as well, thus freeing the underwing tunnels from any obstruction.
Buoyed by the performance of the latest FW07 regular development, the FW07D, the team started the season with this car, “Lole” immediately taking second after the super-license affair at Kyalami, with Rosberg fifth. While the politics continued unabated in Brazil, Williams were confronted by Reutemann's shock retirement but lifted by Rosberg's strong second place at Long Beach, yet still behind Niki Lauda in McLaren's miracle chassis. The Imola boycott allowed the team to prepare two FW08s for Zolder where there was more drama in store for the Grand Prix community. With the Renaults faltering yet again, Keke grabbed another second place, this time following home John Watson in the other MP4/1.
In the following races Rosberg and new team mate Derek Daly continued to be beaten by the McLaren and the Brabham BT49D, while the turbo-engined Brabham won its first race. In France, turbos finished one-two-three-four. Obviously unaware of the final Championship result, the Williams team then pressed on with its six-wheeler project and during the summer of 1982 a new car surfaced. This time an adapted FW08-01, codenamed FW08D, hit the Donington Park track. Its four-wheel driven times were stunning. In fact, they were so good that the FIA issued their 1983 regulations including a clause that outlawed six-wheelers and four-wheel drive. Williams' efforts had come to nought. And with Keke suddenly picking up one useful placing after the other – outpacing the unreliable McLarens in the process – and taking his debut win at Dijon, the Didcot team stopped having reasons for arguing too strongly with the FIA. And they had their negotiations with Honda going on anyway.
Joining them – as Lotus had done, as McLaren would ultimately do – instead of beating them became the new motto for the new Formula 1 era. It had no place for six-wheelers, just as it refused four-wheel driven turbine cars. Many years later, at the 1995 Festival of Speed, the Williams FW08D turned out one more time in the hands of Jonathan Palmer. On the hill at Goodwood it showed why it was outlawed before it got the chance to show it was a winner. The doctor comfortably set an FTD that was only narrowly beaten by Nick Heidfeld four years later, in a pukka 1998 McLaren.
Today the answer to the question is simple again. “What does a racing car look like?” It's got four wheels and a steering wheel, with the engine in the back driving the rear wheels. Apparently, the 21st century is no time for playing around in another ballpark. Or it must be in The Thunderbirds.