The advent of the six wheeled Tyrrell P34 in 1976 created a lot of buzz in the Formula 1 world. It used four tiny 10 inch wheels at the front in an effort to reduce drag. The car scored a 1-2 finish at the Swedish Grand Prix at Anderstorp, stumping the competition.
The rivaling teams were now feverishly trying to come up with a similar solution. March tried their own concept with the 2-4-0, employing a dual rear axle with four smaller wheels at the back, all of which were driven.
Niki Lauda posing with the T6's defining feature.
After seeing all of this unfold, Ferrari designer Mauro Forghieri thought of a radically different solution. The problem with the Tyrrell P34 was its enormous rear tires, which were standard in F1 at the time. These gigantic slabs of rubber negated the drag reduction gained from the tiny front wheels, making the concept severely flawed.
March had tried to correct this by using the standard smaller front tire on all four corners, while using four driven examples at the back to avoid traction loss. The 2-4-0’s complicated gearbox assembly meant however that it was unreliable and very expensive to produce.
Mauro Forghieri thought of a third way which would be much more cost effective. Seemingly drawing inspiration from heavy duty trucks, he decided bolting two front wheels together and fitting them to the rear axle was the best possible solution. The smaller front wheels were much lower than the standard rear wheel, which greatly reduced drag.
Another advantage was the higher rigidity of the smaller rubber fitted to the two separate wheels. A large single piece of rubber fitted to a massively wide wheel was more prone to flexing under stress during cornering, decreasing the contact patch and the available grip. Forghieri figured the smaller separate tires would be a big improvement, allowing the car to keep gripping where traditional designs would start to slide.
Testing at Fiorano.
With the concept worked out and the car ready to go, it was handed to Ferrari’s F1 drivers for testing. Alongside Niki Lauda was the enigmatic Argentinian Carlos Reutemann, also a very gifted driver. Testing was done principally at Ferrari’s Fiorano test track, but an excursion was also made. Niki Lauda took the car for several laps of the infamous circular high speed bowl at the Nardo automotive testing facility to try out the concept at very high speeds.
Little is known about the performance of the T6 compared to its T2 base car. Any advantage gained proved to be of little use to Ferrari anyway, as the double rear wheels violated the maximum width allowed in Formula 1 at the time by a massive margin. The illegal dimensions meant the car would never be allowed to start a Grand Prix. So after some limited testing, the project was consequently shelved.
The Ferrari 312 T6 employed some truly out of the box thinking. Using technology taken from trucks and buses, it aimed to out-grip the competition in the most unorthodox way possible. Sadly the ingenious was simply too far out of the box, as strict width regulations prevented it from ever competing. As many children of the short-lived Tyrrell P34 six-wheeled revolution, it would remain only a prototype.