Williams FW08B: The last six-wheeled F1 car

F1 history

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The car once once before being superseded by the FW08B, using their 1982 car as a base.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:

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

  1. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 14th July 2011, 13:06

    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.

    • JimN (@jimn) said on 14th July 2011, 13:27

      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.

      • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 14th July 2011, 13:37

        Very bizarre! Wow, good read that, thanks.

        • JimN (@jimn) said on 14th July 2011, 14:05

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

          • HounslowBusGarage said on 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.

        • Fixy (@fixy) said on 14th July 2011, 14:36

          :shock:

          how bad long term memory can be

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

          • Robbie said on 14th July 2011, 17:14

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

          • Aldo said on 14th July 2011, 18:15

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

        • TommyC said on 15th July 2011, 1:28

          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…

          • Mike (@mike) said on 15th July 2011, 2:43

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

          • TommyC said on 15th July 2011, 3:30

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

          • 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

        • anakincarlos said on 17th July 2011, 1:51

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

    • KaIIe (@kaiie) said on 15th July 2011, 13:52

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

  2. BasCB (@bascb) said on 14th July 2011, 13:10

    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 ;)

    • Girts (@girts) said on 14th July 2011, 13:20

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

      • DVC said on 14th July 2011, 14:27

        He was still going faster than Coulthard.

        I’m still not sure why he retired.

        • 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!”

          • Josh said on 15th July 2011, 9:10

            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.

    • John Cousins said on 15th July 2011, 8:56

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

  4. Patrick said on 14th July 2011, 13:26

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

  5. deathjester said on 14th July 2011, 13:28

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

    http://i816.photobucket.com/albums/zz85/Randleclan/photo-146.jpg

    • Hamish said on 14th July 2011, 13:51

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

      • HoHum (@hohum) said on 14th July 2011, 15:26

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

        • deathjester said on 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

          http://i816.photobucket.com/albums/zz85/Randleclan/photo-154.jpg

          • PR19_Kit said on 14th July 2011, 15:47

            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.

          • Robbie said on 14th July 2011, 17:21

            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…

          • Robbie said on 14th July 2011, 17:34

            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…

          • BasCB (@bascb) said on 14th July 2011, 20:14

            Sounds great PR19_Kit

          • Mike (@mike) said on 15th July 2011, 2:46

            @PR19_Kit wow…

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 14th July 2011, 20:12

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

  6. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 14th July 2011, 13:39

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

  7. UNeedAFinn2Win said on 14th July 2011, 13:51

    typo:
    “The car once once before being superseded”

  8. matt90 said on 14th July 2011, 13:52

    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.

    • Dan Thorn (@dan-thorn) said on 14th July 2011, 14:04

      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
      \ /
      I
      / \
      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)

  9. Fixy (@fixy) said on 14th July 2011, 14:37

    Formula 1 is actually a dream of Bernie Ecclestone.

  10. Damon said on 14th July 2011, 14:55

    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:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1vZFZCVH0E&

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

  11. VXR said on 14th July 2011, 15:05

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

    • VXR said on 14th July 2011, 15:08

      Apparently it had huge understeer problems.

      Despite what Mr Palmer said.

    • vjanik said on 14th July 2011, 15:27

      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.

  12. Butler_F1 said on 14th July 2011, 15:29

    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.

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

      If it sounds crazy enough, somebody somewhere tried it.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 14th July 2011, 20:21

      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.

      • Tim said on 14th July 2011, 20:41

        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. HoHum (@hohum) said on 14th July 2011, 15:38

    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 said on 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 :-)

    • TommyC said on 15th July 2011, 3:29

      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. MVEilenstein (@mveilenstein) said on 14th July 2011, 17:23

    the FIA stepped in to ban the technology

    Typical.

    • Phil said on 16th July 2011, 18:16

      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.

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