The Minardi star with a six-wheeled love affair

Ex-Formula 1 racer Pierluigi Martini has a special place in the hearts of Minardi fans – after all, he was the driver with whom the team made its F1 debut in 1985, scored its first point in 1988, and recorded its only ever front-row start in 1990. This diminutive but larger-than-life character has his own racing love affair, however: his pride and joy is an ex-Ronnie Peterson Tyrrell P34.

The Minardi star with a six-wheeled love affair

The Italian, now 57, brought the famous six-wheeler he now owns to this year’s edition of the Historic Minardi Day at Imola. Pierluigi considers the car ‘a mechanical jewel’ in F1’s history.

He has made a complete renovation of the 1977 machine, and after putting in hours of hard work, he even went to Australia to find some details to make it perfect.

Ronnie Peterson with the six-wheeled Tyrrell P34

Ronnie Peterson with the six-wheeled Tyrrell P34

Photo by: David Phipps

Tyrrell P34

Tyrrell P34

Photo by: PhotoCiabatti

Ronnie Peterson, Tyrrell P34

Ronnie Peterson, Tyrrell P34

Photo by: David Phipps

“The car is original in all things” Martini says, clearly proud of his job. “The steering wheel is the one that Ronnie used. It has a notch on the spoke that you can see in the photos of that period.

“I was able to recover the seat of Patrick Depailler, Peterson’s teammate. I couldn’t have driven the ‘six-wheeler’ with Ronnie’s seat, because of the difference of our height.”

Pierluigi Martini, Brabham BMW

Pierluigi Martini, Brabham BMW

Photo by: JEP / LAT Images

Tyrrell P34

Tyrrell P34

Photo by: Franco Nugnes

Martini is literally in love with the Tyrrell P34, which was renovated according to the exact specification of the 1977 Japanese GP – the last-ever race for the car designed by Derek Gardner and modified by Maurice Philippe.

The six-wheeler won the 1976 Swedish GP with Jody Scheckter, and over its 30 races took one pole position, three fastest laps, 14 podiums and 100 points. Gardner had convinced Ken Tyrrell to allow him to create a car with four smaller front tyres, being positive that the car would have had less drag, since the front wing covered the air resistence of the front tyres.

The front wheels of Pierluigi Martini's Tyrrell P34

The front wheels of Pierluigi Martini's Tyrrell P34

Photo by: Franco Nugnes

The car, which featured the traditional Ford-Cosworth DFV engine of the time, displayed great agility in the corners, but was difficult to control under braking and suffered some cooling engine problems. To solve the latter issue, the Tyrrell technicians moved the two radiators to the front of the chassis.

“I think it’s an amazing car,” says Martini. “In 1977, Philippe decided to enlarge the wheel track more and more, because Goodyear didn’t develop the 10-inch front tyres. So there were some stability problems in the front.

“Avon, that nowadays creates tyres for historic F1 racing, produced some amazing front tyres, so I came back to Gardner’s tighter wheel track, and I found a surprising balance that makes this F1 car so good to drive. I’m sure that if Tyrrell had had the possibility of using correct tyres, it would have won the title.

“The renovation of the car has been difficult, because in 1977 they modified the car, so I only had the drawings [of the previous spec], so it was difficult for me to find some things. Luckily I could talk with the draftsman of the Tyrrell, who clarified some of my doubts.”

Ronnie Peterson, Tyrrell P34

Ronnie Peterson, Tyrrell P34

Photo by: David Phipps

Race winner Keke Rosberg, Williams, second place René Arnoux, Ferrari, third place Elio de Angelis, Lotus

Race winner Keke Rosberg, Williams, second place René Arnoux, Ferrari, third place Elio de Angelis, Lotus

Photo by: Williams F1

Minardi M189

Minardi M189

Photo by: PhotoCiabatti

According to Martini, the cars of the 70s were far easier to drive than those he drove in the 1980s and ’90s: “I made some laps in Imola [in the Tyrrell] without any physical exertion. Now I understand why some drivers smoked 40 cigarettes a day and they were competitive!

“The ‘six-wheeler’ is docile; you put the wheels exactly when you want and there aren’t strange reactions. The more power you give, the more power it asks for.”

Martini says this car is special not only for its unique six-wheeled layout, but for the fact it raced just before the ground-effect and turbo eras that changed everything.

He adds: “Of course, not only for the turbo – that was representative of the next decade – in the 80s everything changed because of the ground effect and the predominance of aerodynamics. Cars became more demanding. So, for me the P34 is a real jewel because it represents a unique time.”

Ronnie Peterson, Tyrrell P34-Ford

Ronnie Peterson, Tyrrell P34-Ford

Photo by: LAT Images

Steering wheel Tyrrell P34

Steering wheel Tyrrell P34

Photo by: Franco Nugnes

Tyrrell P34

Tyrrell P34

Photo by: Franco Nugnes

The six wheeled Tyrrell P34-Ford chassis in the paddock

The six wheeled Tyrrell P34-Ford chassis in the paddock

Photo by: LAT Images

Martini says he is now torn over driving his car competitively, like in the Monaco Historic Grand Prix.

“I even asked if I could make a copy of the car, but the regulations of the race in Monaco admits only original cars, so I let it go,” he rues. “I don’t want to ruin all the hard work I did to renovate the P34 in order to do a single race!”

Ronnie Peterson, Tyrrell P34, in the Monaco GP

Ronnie Peterson, Tyrrell P34, in the Monaco GP

Photo by: David Phipps

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