Part 4 – Evolution, the Winter of 1976

Written by Jay Walker. Posted in P34 History

The 1976 season was over, Derek Gardner and the Tyrrell team spent the winter attempting to improve the performance of the P34. The first improvements came from extended testing time in the wind tunnel in the form of an all enveloping body shell for the car, many variants of this new body shell were developed over the coming months and throughout the 1977 F1 season. Initially the body shell was manufactured from fibre glass making it extremely heavy, but later in the 1977 season a Kevlar version was used, being much lighter than the fibre glass version, it allowed the P34 to gain back some of the ground it would loose in the coming season.

Unfortunately the new body shell introduced new problems into the project, the new shape reduced the amount of air flow over the oil radiators which were originally mounted under the rear wing, this problem would later be rectified by moving the oil radiators to the noise of the car. The other main problem with the new body work was the shear size of it, when removed from the car it took almost as much space causing a logistic nightmare for the team in the 1977 season.

During this period Tyrrell also managed to secure a major sponsorship deal with First National City Travellers Checks, the extra money was used to establish new R&D centre at Ockham. Ken Tyrrell immediately employed Dr Karl Kempf, a 27 year old scientist who had formally been employed by Goodyear. Ken’s brief was simple, construct a mathematical model of the P34 and further explore the potential of the six wheel concept.

The P34’s were fitted with electronic instrumentation and performance data was recorded and downloaded onto a computer at Tyrrell’s factory, this approach to F1 development was ground breaking for its time, much of the work which Kempf did became the basis of modern electronics in F1 racing,

Alas as with most new technologies things did not go smoothly for Tyrrell, the electronics regularly failed and the computer technology of the late 1970’s was not reliable enough for it to make much difference to Project 34, especially as Goodyear were still not investing anywhere near enough recourses at developing the 10″ F1 tyre technology.

A glimmer of the true potential of Project 34 was made during testing in late December 1976 at Paul Richard when Patrick Depailler beat the lap record for an F1 car of 1:47:06 by over a second !, Ken was so enthused by this progress that he placed a wager on Patrick to win the 1977 drivers championship, a bet that sadly was not to bear any fruit.

The other major event that occurred during in this period was the departure of Jody Scheckter to the newly established Wolf racing Team, Ken replaced him with the Swedish F1 Driver, Ronnie Peterson, a signing that despite Kens best efforts was never to bring the results he had hoped.