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Williams FW08B: The last six-wheeled F1 car

Think of six-wheeled F1 cars and you’ll most likely recall Tyrrell’s P34. The unique car, with four dinky wheels up front, managed to win a single race in 1976.

But it was not the only six-wheeler built for Formula 1. The final effort, created by Williams in 1982, looked promising in testing but the FIA stepped in to ban the technology.

Williams’ first six-wheeler

Williams built two different six-wheelers in the early eighties. At the times teams were evaluating the costly switch to turbo power, where Renault had led the way and Ferrari, in 1981, chose to follow.

Williams pursued the opposite six-wheeled concept to the one used by Tyrrell. They added extra wheels at the rear of the car to improve traction. The first of their six-wheelers, based on their 1979 car, was called the FW07D.

This had benefits beyond the added traction. Front wheels could be used at the back of the car to maintain the same or larger contact patch with the ground while reducing the frontal area and drag compared with conventional wide rear tyres.

The increased wheelbase meant it also had longer downforce-generating ‘skirts’.

“It was bloody heavy”

The car once once before being superseded by the FW08B, using their 1982 car as a base. Patrick Head explained more about it earlier this year:

“We were all intrigued to see if we could balance a car that had such a large contact patch at the rear and we quickly discovered that we could. I remember Jonathan Palmer telling me that he could not really tell that there were four wheels at the back, although the traction out of slow corners was phenomenal.

The FW08B had no handling problems as such it did not understeer like a pig, as many people expected ? But there was so much hardware on the car that it was bloody heavy. It was going to be a huge challenge to get it down to a reasonable weight.

The car was about 250mm longer than a standard FW08 and all four rear wheels were driven. There was a differential between the two front wheels and the two rear wheels, but there was no differential between the front pair and the rear pair.”

Even before the car began testing in late 1982 rumours had begun that the FIA were preparing to ban six-wheeled cars from Formula 1.

For 1983 the FIA announced all cars should have a maximum of four wheels with two of them driven, and that killed off the last six-wheeler for good.

Some reports claimed the FW08B set very competitive times in testing. How competitive it might have been remains a mystery.

F1 historyPosted on | 14th July 2011 Author Keith Collantine
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