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Scalextric Tyrrell P34 1977 Belgian Grand Prix - Ronnie Peterson
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Scalextric C4245 Tyrrell P34 - 1977 Belgian Grand Prix. RRP £53.99. Available very soon.

Hot off the increasingly rapid boat from China is this much-anticipated Tyrrell six-wheeler, featuring the 1977 First National City colour scheme and piloted by Super-Swede Ronnie Peterson. We've had to wait a while after the 2020 release of a '76 Swedish Grand Prix twin pack, celebrating the high-point of Tyrrell's revolutionary Project 34 - but that probably makes this release even more attractive...

       

The model captures the car as it was at the 1977 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. Although the helmet is not correct for these photographs taken during practice, Peterson did change to an un-peaked version for the wet race...

       

There was no engine cover, allowing Scalextric to show off their nicely detailed DFV. Neither is there the ugly front radiator - Tyrrell rowing back on many of the 1977 'upgrades' as they added weight and seemed to offer no advantage. It makes the Scalextric car very pleasing to the eye...

       

The race itself is remembered for the atrocious conditions and for the sole Grand Prix victory for Gunnar Nilsson - the popular and talented Swede who died of cancer the following year, aged just 29. If we moan about officials' decisions in Formula One today, things were considerably worse at Zolder in 1977. Sandstorms had been an issue all weekend, compounded by a lack of garage space for the 32 cars that had turned up to try and qualify. Sand got everywhere - which is not great for an F1 car. Race day saw the addition of a moist, salty sea mist blowing across the track. And then the rain came. The 27 qualified cars were sent out for a standing start, all on slicks.



Delays and indecision were eventually followed by a full 70-lap race in dark and damp conditions - almost everyone starting on wet tyres. The exception was reigning world champion James Hunt. No safety car start in those days, and it was a chaotic first lap - John Watson got the jump on pole-sitter Andretti, but the American's Lotus hit the rear end of Watson's Brabham and both spun off into retirement. Peterson had qualified third, but the new leader was Jody Scheckter's Wolf - who had Nilson behind him in the other Lotus. Scheckter made the most of his superior visibility and pulled out a commanding lead. The rain was still falling, so Hunt's gamble fizzled out as he dropped to the back and was lapped by the Wolf on lap seven.

Ronnie Peterson was the first to gamble as the rain ceased and the strong wind began to dry the track - he came into the pits on lap 13. Tyrrell's move was the catalyst for plenty of pit lane action - including a 'record' 16-second stop for Lauda's Ferrari. The track surface was still treacherous off-line - especially on worn wets - and leader Scheckter dropped to eighth after an excursion on lap 17. Nilsson now led, but he was yet to stop.

Everyone had either spun off or changed tyres by lap 25 - and the race finally settled down. Lauda had a decent lead, followed by Mass in the other McLaren, Alan Jones in a Shadow and Brambilla in a Surtees. Behind them, Scheckter and Nilsson were recovering from their less-than-ideal race strategies. A light drizzle returned and Lauda spun, retaining the lead - but others were less fortunate. Before the days of an 'intermediate' tyre, drivers slowed or went for wets - which soon overheated - and another chaotic phase of the race ensued. Scheckter was one of those pitting again (and later, a third time) leaving the battle between Lauda and Nilsson, with Peterson struggling to get past Jones and Brambilla - which he would eventually do to grab the final place on the podium.

       

At the front, Nilsson was finding his Lotus a better proposition in the conditions than Lauda's Ferrari. Closing in on the Austrian, he executed a perfect overtake going into the chicane behind the pits "as if he were overtaking a back-marker" according to a contemporary race report. And then the Swede drove away, controlling the race and keeping the revs nice and low. As Denis Jenkinson wrote in Motorsport...
Quote:Never was there a happier winner, his first Grand Prix victory, and a well-earned one; the Lotus had run perfectly throughout “… and was just fantastic”. It was best summed up by the sight of Colin Chapman struggling through the crowds surrounding the winner’s rostrum and Gunnar Nilsson standing amidst the mob, looking happy but a bit bewildered by it all. Suddenly, they came face-to-face, and the spontaneous way they threw their arms round each other and hugged one another from sheer emotion and mutual satisfaction was wonderful. There was no need for words, that embrace said it all.
Zolder 1977 was the only time two Swedes have stood together on a Formula One World Championship podium - Nilsson would be gone the following October and Ronnie killed at Monza just a month before. If they had lived - which they probably would have done in this day and age - who knows what they might have achieved.

As for the Tyrrell six-wheeler, the podium at Zolder was the best Peterson would manage in 1977 - teammate Patrick Depailler finished second in Canada and score two third places at Kyalami and Fuji. Tyrrell finished a disappointing fifth in the manufacturers' championship. Japan was the final race for the P34 and it was back to just four wheels in 1978. Ken Tyrrell explained "We have closed the book on our six-wheeled project, and I am sure the cars will become something of a collector's piece". The Scalextric six-wheeler is one way we can all enjoy part of that history.

The Zolder '77 Tyrrell P34 will be available very soon from the Scalextric website and will be with retailers over the next couple of weeks. Many thanks to the Scalextric team for the fabulous photos.
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