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The car once once before being superseded by the FW08B, using their 1982 car as a base.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?σΤιΌΤδσt really tell that there were four wheels at the back, although the traction out of slow corners was phenomenal.

?σΤιΌ?τThe FW08B had no handling problems as such ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ it didn?σΤιΌΤδσt understeer like a pig, as many people expected ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ 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.

?σΤιΌ?τThe 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. Cole (@cole) said on 14th July 2011, 19:11

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


  2. Gridlock said on 14th July 2011, 23:33

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


  3. James_mc (@james_mc) said on 15th July 2011, 0:57

    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!

  4. HounslowBusGarage said on 15th July 2011, 21:27

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

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 15th July 2011, 22:35

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

      • HounslowBusGarage said on 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.

  5. IceBlue said on 15th July 2011, 22:09

    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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