Williams FW08B, 1982

Williams FW08B: The last six-wheeled F1 car

F1 historyPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Williams FW08B, 1982
Williams FW08B, 1982

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.

Alan Jones, Williams FW07D, Donington Park, 1982
Alan Jones, Williams FW07D, Donington Park, 1982

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The car once once before being superseded by the FW08B, using their 1982 car as a base.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 couldn?t 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 ?ǣ it didn?t understeer like a pig, as many people expected ?ǣ 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.

Read more about six-wheeled F1 cars:

66 comments on “Williams FW08B: The last six-wheeled F1 car”

  1. Surprised no-one tried 8 wheels! I guess it’s a good thing they got banned, or F1 cars would end up looking more like tanks, with 16 wheels.

    1. I think the straw that broke the camels’ back and led to multi wheels being banned was the suggestion of a 12 wheeler, certainly the FIA ban was only a few weeks after it was proposed. I remember the article in Autosport. I can’t remember the constructor but it was to be sponsored by Tamiya the model firm and the individual letters Tamiya were going to be on non rotating discs on each of the six wheels on each side. Tamiya reckoned that it would pay for itself in toy sales due to the unique nature of the car. I think that each wheel was to be driven by individual turbine motors, but I can’t remember the exact details. The engine regs were also revamped at the same time by the FIA to ban that drive system as well. I don’t think it ever got further than a series of concept drawings, although different it certainly wasn’t ugly.

      1. Very bizarre! Wow, good read that, thanks.

        1. just shows how bad long term memory can be… it’s as ugly as sin!

          1. HounslowBusGarage
            14th July 2011, 20:53

            Memory certainltdoes plays tricks. I’m sure I saw the same article in Autosport describing it as “an abandoned project”, but I remember it as an eight wheel beastie with four steering and four driving, plus the text said it was planning to use 10 inch Moni wheels . . .
            I thought the drawing was from overhead as well, but the name David Cox is very familiar, so we are probably talking about the same item.

        2. :shock:

          how bad long term memory can be

          Although it is pretty horrible, you remembred many details! Thanks for sharing them ;)

          1. lol…destined to be sponsored by heavy construction equipment maker Caterpillar?

          2. I guess to take the hairpin in Monaco with that truck would have been a fest.

        3. Gees, it looks like a batmobile or something! Inventive to say the least, but perhaps a tad impractical. Imagine the cost of Pirelli supplying however many sets of tyres per car for a whole season. That’d be a lot of rubber to say the least…

          1. I suppose on the upside I’d imagine with the extra errr, 8 contact patches the wear rate would be lower.

          2. yeh true, we’d see Perez doing zero-stoppers

          3. TommyC, you’re right but those werent’s teh days of these stupid control tyre regs (though the current economic climate demands control tyres).

            It’s really funny how the situation is these days “For this race I’ll supply hard and medium tyres, for teh next race medium and soft tyres, for the next…” it’s absolutely bizarre. I hate the single tyre rule

        4. anakincarlos
          17th July 2011, 1:51

          I,d love to see a tyre pit stop in that thing.

    2. I think there’s a fake picture of a Ferrari 8-wheeler, from the early 80s if I remember correctly.

      1. Almost correct: from 1976. More here: http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/forum/showthread.php?t=32105

        Awesome :P

  2. In the goodwood pictures I saw a car that also had 6 wheel, must have been pretty heavy as well.

    And it certainly needs good power steering, I guess.

  3. 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.

    I wonder if anybody tried to make a 3-wheeler ;)

    1. I guess MS / Ferrari tried that in Belgium 1998 but they didn’t seem to be very satisfied with the result :)

      1. He was still going faster than Coulthard.

        I’m still not sure why he retired.

        1. I love how Brundle and DC reference that every few races:

          “Some time ago we saw [footage of] that incident where Michael Schumacher ran into the back of you and then tried to come and punch you. That’s how they used to sort it out!”

          1. yeah, now it’s marching off to the stewards for a quiet word, or (worse still) announcing to ‘charlie’ on the radio that someone should get a penalty.

            that’s the problem with drivers now, they’re such…school boys.

    2. John Cousins
      15th July 2011, 8:56

      Imagine that…. A Williams Reliant doesn’t really have a winning feel to it, does it?

  4. I had no idea this existed, and I’m REALLY glad it was banned!

  5. deathjester
    14th July 2011, 13:28

    One of the very few cars that I’ve had to scratch build the entire model.


    1. That must be a huge table if it can fit an F1 car on it

      1. They banned wooden tracks at the same time. Really good model.

        1. deathjester
          14th July 2011, 15:32

          There is no kit of this, but there is a Minichamps diecast model.
          I did have to do a lot of surgery to the FW07, splicing in the entire gearbox/suspension assembly from the similar Benneton B188, cutting back the rear bodywork, and creating a racetrack section display base, as you can see here


          1. Nice one! :D

            Did you heavily modify the Tamiya 1/20 Williams FW07, the Alan Jones car as I recall?

            That brings back funny memories.

            I worked on the moving floors of both Williams F1’s wind tunnels at Grove, and was building the Alan Jones Tamiya kit at the same time. One day when I arrived at Grove they had the actual Alan Jones car in the foyer where I had to check-in so I asked the receptionist of I could take some piccies of it, but she said photos were totally forbidden on the site. While waiting for my host engineer to show up I spent some time looking at the car and memorising bits for the model, and at one stage I was kneeling on the floor looking at the gearbox and rear wing when this wheelchair wheel appeared alongside and a voice said ‘We’ve advanced a bit since those days you know, you won’t learn much from looking at it that closely!’

            It was, of course, Sir Frank himself, and we both laughed and I told him why I was looking at it so hard as photos weren’t allowed. He said ‘Oh, I think we can waive that ruling for you and this car!’ and so I was allowed to take my piccies.

            Later, having lunch in their canteen, Sir Frank and Patrick Head came in and he saw me, wheeled over and asked how my job on the wind tunnel was going and how my piccies went. A great day and a great bloke too.

          2. deathjester…way to go…I built that kit box stock although I added real screening for the air intake meshing using the plastic ones provided as a mould, and I added some brake lines…great job on your kitbash.

            PR19_Kit…great great story…

          3. Oh ya…I did the sidepod intakes in mesh screening as well…had to look at your pic again to remember…I don’t have my builtup as I built it for a phenomenal modeller who was also an F1 and Williams fanatic and had found himself with little free time due to work…he also had been building so much in resin, white metal, and photoetch (transkits) that he thought he might screw up the plastic Tamiya model…unfortunately Grant has since passed away but I am honoured to have the model I built for him as part of his vast collection that is now in his son’s hands…

          4. Sounds great PR19_Kit

          5. @PR19_Kit wow…

    2. Amazing deathjester! Did you build it to pictures, or have some kind of details to work with?

  6. Now that IS a tight read end, you can see the floor through the back two pairs of wheels.

  7. UNeedAFinn2Win
    14th July 2011, 13:51

    “The car once once before being superseded”

  8. Interesting article.

    I find this quote confusing though:
    “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.”
    I assume he means there was a differential between the two front wheels. There was also one between the two rear wheels. But there wasn’t one betweens the two sets.
    I read this several times as there being a differential between the two pairs, but not one between the two pairs.

    1. I read it to mean that there were differentials side to side – i.e both pairs of rear wheels had separate diffs, but were no linked with a common diff.

      Imagine these O’s are the four back wheels:

      O O
      O O

      The I’s are the diffs:

      O O
      I I
      O O

      They were not linked to each other by a central diff as well as/instead of, like this:

      O O
      \ /
      / \
      O O

      That’s my interpretation.

      (I just realised the comment font isn’t monospaced like it is as you type it, so copy and paste my post into a new comment box to try and make more sense of it)

      1. I’m still not sure whether it is 4 or 6 driven wheels.

  9. Formula 1 is actually a dream of Bernie Ecclestone.

  10. I would love if this technology was explored. That Williams looks fantastic.
    Most big lorries have 6 wheels, so it’s nothing out of the ordinary.

    Video of the italian 6 wheel supercar Covini C6W:

    I’m definitely more a fan of the 2 rear axes car, not the 2 frontal axes ones.

  11. Apparently it had huge understeer problems. Not surprising really, since six wheeler trucks that use the same wheel configuration have the very same problem.

    1. Apparently it had huge understeer problems.

      Despite what Mr Palmer said.

    2. you’re comparing a six wheeler truck to an F1 car to determine if it has understeer? i hope you meant it as a joke.

      a six wheel F1 car and a six wheel truck have almost nothing in common except the number of wheels. its like comparing it to a pram with six wheels. makes no sense at all.

      1. I hear the understeer on six wheel prams is out of control!

  12. Ive read about the 6 wheel William’s before, for some reason i always presumed that they stuck the rear wheels together on one axel, double width tyres, like you get on a truck, if that makes sense, which it doesn’t.

    1. Actually, it did make sense at least to some, check out Ferrari 312T6 :-).

      If it sounds crazy enough, somebody somewhere tried it.

      1. Thats EXACTLY how i imagined it to be, but blue and white!

    2. The disadvantage of that is, that you add drag (its like having really wide wheels), where with the 2 axles you can have smaller tyres and less drag.

      1. The disadvantage of that is, that you add drag

        Which was one of the problems Derek Gardner was aiming to solve with the six wheel Tyrrell in 1976. The Tyrrell concept was quick enough to win a GP, but tyre development (or lack of) killed its chances in the longer term.

        The beauty of the Williams approach (which was actually pioneered by March in the mid-1970s) was that it allowed the car to use standard fronts instead of custom-built mini-tyres or enormous standard rears. An added bonus was that in the wet slicks could be fitted to the rear driving wheels.

  13. I think it was a pity it was banned, greater mechanical grip and less aero-drag, way to solve the problem of dirty air destroying grip for the following car, nose to tail racing, so what if it looks different.

  14. Robert McKay
    14th July 2011, 16:24

    I vaguely remember an issue of F1 Racing where they discussed the “ultimate” F1 car if technologies hadn’t been banned i.e. sliding skirts, acive suspension, 6 wheels etc.

    One of the interesting things was that the front four wheels would have displaced so much water that the rear two would always have a dry line to run on so even when the other four were inters/wets the final two could always be slicks.

    Although my memory of the article is a little fuzzy :-)

    1. That’d be awesome! you wouldn’t sacrifice much traction in wet weather in that case so they’d be amazingly fast! Not that they’re not already…

  15. the FIA stepped in to ban the technology


    1. At the time it was FISA, not the FIA. But sadly that was about the only difference. Ferrari and Renault had them in their pocket then, and FISA changed the rules regularly to disadvantage the British based teams. Hence the eventual banning of ground effect, which Ferrari with their flat 12 engine weren’t in such a great position to use, thanks to the width of the engine compared to V8 Cosworths.
      There are also several comments about the ugliness of the Williams 6-wheeler. It was based on FW08, which was considerably less pretty that the beautifully clean, simple FW07 design. However, it did still win the Driver’s Championship for Rosberg against the early turbocars.

  16. Just check this to see the ugliest ever cars in F1!


      1. What, no Eifelland March? No Amon? No Surtees TS9B? No March 721X? No Williams IR01? No Lotus 56B? No Alfa Romeo 177? No Ligier JS21? No Forti FG01?

  17. They could bring this axle layout back as a promotional device for the logistics convoys:


  18. I think I saw it mentioned, and I’m sure it was in Keiths “banned” article about 6-wheelers that due to the proximity (I understand) of the front set of rears to the rear set of rears (rears^2?), the water was cleared sufficiently to allow slicks to be used on the rear set of wheels. Could have been impressive!

  19. HounslowBusGarage
    15th July 2011, 21:27

    I found this pic. Does anyone know what it is? http://www.syndicatedowners.com/Pics/Image2.jpg

    1. Isn’t that the one March made? The 2-4-0?

      1. HounslowBusGarage
        16th July 2011, 0:16

        Could be, I have honestly no idea.
        This beastie seems to have more articulation between the sets of rear wheels, but that could just be the photo. It’s certainly the same principal with F1 size front wheels all round delivering 50% extra contact patch for braking and 100% extra contact patch for power.
        I find the possibilities absolutely fascinating, but I think it’s probably a good thing that the FIA excluded everything but four wheelers because it would have only been a matter of weeks before someone came up with the idea of four at the front and four at the rear which would have doubled braking and power contact patches right on the dawn of serious ground effects. Cars of that nature could have rendered every circuit’s safety provisions irrelevant very quickly.

  20. The fact is that the Williams FW08B never even raced in a Grand Prix. Neither did the March 2-4-0 or the Ferrari 312T6, the other six wheeled cars. Much more relevant to the history of these cars is the fact that the Tyrell P34 was the only six wheeled car that won a race, actually finishing first (Jody Scheckter) and second (Patrick Depaillier) in the 1976 Swedish GP.

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