FOR FERRARI, THE enemy isn’t so much at the gates as crashing through them with sheer weight of numbers. It’s quite clear that fortress Maranello is under siege.
From McLaren, an endless stream of exceptional sports cars, with two of the best - the outrageously talented 720S and ferocious 600LT - aimed squarely at Maranello’s mid-engined V8, until now the 488 GTB. From Lamborghini, an uprated Huracan with something of the Ferrari’s wondrous balance - and a naturally aspirated V10. And then there’s Aston Martin’s new Vanquish, an unapologetically aggressive move before you consider that it’s being engineered by a couple of brilliant ex-Ferrari minds...
What’s more, Ferrari has quite a bit on. Mercedes will once again require keeping honest in Formula One, and on the road-car side, Ferrari’s new CEO, Louis Camilleri, is furiously cranking the new product handle like a man possessed. Chief technical officer Michael Leiters has everything from a new supercar through to a V6 hybrid powertrain and the Purosangue SUV on his enormous drawing board.
“Ferrari is having a very important year - we are doing so many projects,” confirms Leiters with a wry smile. “We have never done so many, and with so many innovations on those projects. It’s very exciting. And for Ferrari it was important to do a big step with this car.” That car is the new F8 Tributo. It replaces the 488 GTB as Ferrari’s frontline mid-engined sports car, and has been created with the sole purpose of re-establishing Ferrari’s dominance in a space it created. For many, the mid-engined V8 is Ferrari; exotic, race-bred, intoxicating. It must remain the definitive modern two-seat sports car.
To ensure that it does, Leiters and his team have turned to their secret weapon, the 488 Pista, and drawn from it all the technical innovations and extreme performance thinking that make that car special.
“The F8 is a significant step forward,” says Leiters. “The heart of the car is the new 530kW engine, the same as the 488 Pista’s. This is definitely the most important part of the Tributo.”
He’s not kidding. Let’s ponder for a moment the wonder of a series-production sports car with a racecar’s heart and conrods in a metal so light and expensive it normally rules itself out the second anyone pulls out a calculator. On a special edition, yes, but on a series-production V8? Too expensive, surely?
“This is definitely cost-intensive technology, but for this car we wanted the best engine of the last 20 years [an award bestowed upon the Pista’s twin-turbo V8 by the International Engine of the Year jury],” says Leiters. “That’s why we decided to put the economic effort into this engine.”
Together with the 38kW/10Nm increases, the Pista-derived V8 brings with it an 18kg weight saving (the F8’s overall weight is down 40kg versus the 488, to 1330kg dry); Inconel exhaust manifolds cut 9.7kg, the conrods 1.7kg and the lightened flywheel and crankshaft 2.7kg.
Peak torque is 770Nm at 3250rpm, as befits such a race-bred engine. The new F8 is 0.1sec quicker from zero to 100km/h than the 488 GTB at 2.9sec (2.85sec for the Pista) and 0.5sec quicker 0-200km/h at 7.8sec (7.6sec for the Pista).
But numbers don’t do justice to an engine so potent and charismatic. Pista owners had to fight their way into an elite queue and stump up $645,000 before options. In the new F8 Tributo, it’ll be a good deal less expensive.
To ensure you never forget the very special engine’s right there at your back, a duct will channel its aural splendour into the cockpit. Leiters: “We have a new exhaust system which negates the impact of new emissions tests, and includes a new particulate filter. We also have a membrane just after the turbo compressors and a duct to bring the sound directly to the cabin - it is even more emotional and involving than it is on the 488 GTB.” It is for its music that most of us prize Ferrari’s V8, and worry for its surely inevitable demise.
THE 3902CC, twin-turbo V8 powering the F8 Tributo finds its roots with the Pista, not the 488 GTB. The air intakes, derived from the Challenge racecar, have been moved to either side of the blown rear spoiler, directly connecting to the intake plenums. There’s a new cam profile, as well as specific valves and springs. The pistons and cylinder heads have been strengthened while the DLC-coated piston pins are derived from F1. The powertrain is down 18kg thanks to Inconel exhaust manifolds, titanium con rods and a lighter crankshaft/flywheel. Redline is 8000rpm.
That control system is version 6.1 of Ferrari’s Side Slip Control (SSC), which also bundles in the Dynamic Enhancer miracle-worker previously reserved for the Pista. Essentially a highly intelligent, almost predictive accessory to Side Slip Control, Dynamic Enhancer (available in the Race and CT Off positions on the manettino) builds on SSC’s manipulation of the car’s limited-slip differential to bring in a little driverflattering brake tweaking.
The system uses SSC’s algorithms to detect an imminent slide. If it decides the slide wasn’t deliberately provoked then it works the brakes to counteract a sudden loss of traction and negate the need for hurried armfuls of opposite lock. But if it thinks you know what you’re doing it’ll merely lend a helping hand, imperceptibly scrubbing the front and rear brakes to let you indulge in spectacular yet safe oversteer.
“It helps a lot when you go to the limit - and especially when you go over the limit. The system places a high demand on the brakes and on the differential so we wanted to have it only in certain circumstances. We need it only for the driver when they are driving to the limit in a very sporty way - so it’s available in Race and CT Off modes.”
The very best bits of the Pista have been wrapped in a body that blends a little of that car’s track-bred menace with some heart-melting retro flourishes. Same wind-cheating thinking (for a 10 per cent increase in aero efficiency), same impossibly waisted silhouette, new rear lights - gone are the GTB’s single round lamps, replaced by two pairs that evoke older Ferrari V8s like the 308. Cutting-edge technical solutions melded with a little of the romance of the past - what better way to see off those impudent rivals?
It’s thought McLaren’s V8 will give way to a hybrid-assisted V6 in the near future, the same solution Aston’s developing for its sub-Valkyrie mid-engined supercars. But don’t worry - Ferrari’s V8 is not going anywhere just yet. Trust in Leiters.
“This is not the end of our V8 line,” he says. “The turbo V8 will remain an important pillar of our engine range. We are working on a V6, but it won’t replace the V8. Downsizing will be important, and the V6 - combined with hybrid technology at different levels, not always full hybrid - will be important, too. But this will not replace the V8. Technically the V8 is difficult to keep alive, but we are working on this, and in the mid-term we can maintain... atmo V12, V8 turbo and V6 turbo.”
The rest of the F8 is broadly familiar from the 488 GTB and Pista, featuring an aluminium-intensive monocoque with double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension. But Ferrari’s engineers have worked through each of its key systems making small, yet significant changes, from suspension set-up through to the steering wheel itself to the stability control.
“The suspension set-up is more sophisticated and we have a new steering wheel [smaller in diameter and thinner of rim] for a compact feeling and a high degree of control,” says Leiters. “We also have a new control system on the car, to help make it easier to drive on the limit. There are many minor improvements that add up to improve the handling.”