Tyrrell’s Project 34 six-wheel Formula One car was one of those refreshingly radical cars that used to come into Grand Prix racing in the 1970s, designs seldom seen today. Many look back on this car as a total failure, forgetting the early success it had in 1976, for Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler with that memorable 1-2 at Anderstorp in the Swedish GP. Both Scheckter and the Tyrrell team finished 3rd in their relevant Driver and Constructor Championships that year. The second year was less successful, agreed. Unfortunately, this has somewhat perverted the course of the car’s history.
Derek Gardner, designer of the Tyrrell P34, had been instrumental in my winning the 1994 Euro Historic F2 Championship, and it was his wish for us to race the Tyrrell 005 in the 1995 FIA Thoroughbred Grand Prix Championship, which we won. I drove, Simon Bull was the patron and Derek the brains. A “B” spec Tyrrell P34—chassis 006—became available, so Simon purchased the car. The plan was to compete the car in the FIA TGP Championship, for Simon and me it was the challenge, however, for Derek Gardner it was a case of unfinished business.
Our aim was to set the record straight and remind the dissenters just what the car was really all about. The biggest problem and issue was the rotational value of the four small wheels and the deformity of the tires. We had to look at the construction of the tires to compensate for this. Goodyear, the original manufacturer, lacked capacity to continue with the development of the original tires and this became the car’s Achilles Heel. While the rear tires were developed the front tire development remained static. Over a very short period of time the imbalance showed and the car became unstable. So, the downfall of Project 34 was purely down to lack of tire development, rather than aerodynamics or mechanics. FIA TGP tire supplier Avon had a look at the construction with Derek. One of their senior men had been at Goodyear for the original project, which helped enormously. Once we had the new rubber the car was great, and within three laps I forgot I had two extra wheels, the car gave great confidence.
The earlier Tyrrell 005 had suffered understeer, I hate understeer, and the car was also aerodynamically limited at the front, but not the six-wheeler. Despite other criticisms, Jody Scheckter told me the car had great steering qualities—it would go exactly where he wanted it to go. Sadly, by the time I got the P34 both Ronnie Peterson and Patrick Depailler had been lost to us, so Jody Scheckter was my only reference, as far as driving competitively was concerned. Of course, Derek gave me some great input and we had several conversations along the way, but Ken Tyrrell made the comment, “You’ll never win with that.”
First time out, at Paul Ricard, I had just five laps of testing due to a small problem with the brake calipers. I just missed pole and came 2nd in the race—despite having only five brakes. In Monaco, it was a little fraught in the wet, but overall it was a great well-balanced car that I was able to attack with. It was very responsive to my driving style and gave me huge confidence to race with. One other quality I found was with the front-end grip, many cars lose grip when in traffic, but the P34 didn’t, purely due to the design characteristics of the front of the car. We did the whole season of the FIA Thoroughbred series in 1999 and I came 2nd, although I won the class, but in 2000 I won the championship outright—even by taking the class structure out—that was a great feeling. Winning at Monza was the highlight of the season, with the great legacy, history and emotion the circuit has it’s great to win there. It was great to be presented with the Championship rose bowl at the FIA Awards Dinner that year. Rightfully, I let Derek keep the bowl, but following his passing I now have it back. That dinner, in Monte Carlo, was a great social event. I took Derek and his wife Margaret, and Simon and his wife Kate with me. It was good to see Derek chatting with the likes of Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley. Derek’s wry smile spoke volumes of the satisfaction he had about my success with the car. Of course, I couldn’t have done it without his help, or indeed Simon’s too. The car will forever have a special place in my mind, it was simply a great racing car, especially the three victories at Monaco where on a clear lap it is THE BEST…just the thought puts a grin on my face and the pulse rises!