Ferrari’s Formula 1 obsession

Ferrari was on an all-time F1 high back in the beginning of the new millennium. From 1999 onwards till 2008 Ferrari was pretty much the domineering name in the sport, with a certain Michael Schumacher spearheading the campaign up to 2004. Pretty much everything to come out of Ferrari from that time onwards had F1 written all over it. Everything in a Ferrari had to shout F1. They even went as far as installing the constructions champions plague on some road going Ferrari’s

Which is all fine except that Ferrari lost its styling mojo in the quest of bringing Formula 1 tech to the roads. See, Formula 1 cars epitomises form over function. Every shape on it is only there for a reason. Therefore after the achingly beautiful 355, the 360 Modena, which was extensively designed in the wind tunnel was caught in a little bit of fan favouritism. Some accepted the looks others felt it lost the Ferrari appeal. 

No more manuals  

Previously we saw the first automatic Ferrari in production, the Ferrari 400i. Nearly 3 decades later, the 458 Italia comes exclusively with two pedals. How times have changed indeed. Unlike the 3 speed GM sourced autobox back in the late 70’s, the 458 Italia’s 7 speed dual clutch transmission is an engineering marvel. Absolutely no gap in power during full acceleration upshifts, it makes the robotized manuals in the F430 and 360 Modena seem needlessly complicated and inefficient. In auto mode it’s smooth and well behaved as any normal automatic would. In fact at low speeds it’s as friendly as driving around a modern hot hatches double clutch gearbox. Of course all changes when you do hit the loud pedal. 

Just look at it

Gone are the cluttered looks which were product of aerodynamic excuses, in came a new age silhouette that seemingly came with a cross-production of Pininfarina and Steve Jobs. No more gaping ducts on the front bumpers, no more cluttered switchgear with garish trim on the centre console.

Instead, flowing lines with striking DRL’s on the front. Beautifully shaped twin rear lights with an unusual 3 exhaust outlet at the back, paying homage to the F40. Inside, its proper sci-fi with the design direction being more Aeon Flux and less of 5th Element.

One thing carried over from the 360 and 430 is the rear glass cover for the engine bay, which still displays THAT V8 in all its glory. Truly this car has advanced Ferrari’s design to the IPhone generation. 

This particular 458 Italia

It was not always clad in Rosso Corsa, this car started out in white. A much sought after, end of the line 458 Italia, was hunted down by a number of enthusiasts. But our lucky Dato’ managed to hustle his way to this amazing example. And a worthy owner too, he’s not one to hold back, driving the prancing horse like it’s supposed to be driven. Now wrapped in red, with the silver 70th sticker on the side, this car truly looks the part. And that’s why this car is not for sale, unfortunately. I wish we could have the honour of having this Prancing Horse join our Route Hunter drives. It would look and sound amazing rushing through the oil palm plantations our back roads snake through. A worthy Ferrari, used as it’s meant to be. 

Fast, everywhere.

Straight line is not the only place where this Ferrari excels. The chassis and brakes have come a long way from the 80’s. The 355 and the 360 were known to be a little knife edged at the limit, especially in the wet. It’s still pretty much there with the 458, it is a Prancing Horse after all. But this time the limit is set so high up that by just driving it in the typical ‘slow-in-fast-out’ manner, you can leave most cars in the dust, even on our demanding B roads. The mechanical traction of the suspension and tyres, the balance of the chassis, and the electronics keep everything safe up to quite high limits. I would strongly suggest to only try the upper limits within the safety of a racetrack like Sepang, its extremely unsafe to push this car on public roads just because of the shear pace it’s capable of.

The one thing I enjoyed was the 458’s brakes. The first Ferrari I drove was an amazing 308 GTSi in Germany on a summer’s day (straight outta Shakespeare). It was beautiful, the creamy howl from that V8, the targa top taken out, and the click-clack from the gated shifter all came together in one beautiful dreamy sensation. It all came crashing down into a hellish nightmare as soon as I stepped on the brakes. There was no stopping power, at all. I was horrified as we were coming to a T-junction with a tractor ahead of me. I always gave a braking distance of about 1 district after that with that car. No such issues with this baby though with its massive callipers and discs bigger than some family sedan’s wheels. You haul to a complete halt with ease, critical to the safety of your 458 Italias front nose and your underpants. 

The consequences

The 360 was replaced with the F430 in 2004. From a technical point the car was amazing, with 483 bhp from a naturally aspirated 4.3 liter V8, and pretty much finishing on top on most supercar shootouts. However from the aesthetics, not quite. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, so what might appeal to me might not to someone else. Having said that, one cannot deny that the F430 was more on the cluttered side when it came to design elements, both inside and the outside of the car. Too many lines, too many shapes, no seamlessness that we saw in the beloved F355.

Ferrari needed a style reboot and it needed it ASAP. And then in 2009, the magic happened. The Ferrari 458 Italia debuted in the Frankfurt Motor Show and my god did they get their styling mojo back!

Performance

There’s no mistaking that the 458 Italia is fast, even in 2017. It may have been succeeded by the 488 GTB but this 4.5 liter V8 562bhp is a relentless powerhouse. Even from low down the pull from this naturally aspirated engine is strong, neck snapping even. My photographer and me had to struggle to keep ourselves in the car during acceleration shots thanks to the owner, an enthusiastic Dato’s exuberant driving style! He’s a good lad.

One thing that dominates more than the pace of this car is its exhaust note. Pure Ferrari magic, once the exhaust bypass valves open there’s a smooth roar that quickly transforms into a shriek as the tachometer heads towards the redline. This is an expensive addiction, because you will want to downshift and rev up at every possible moment, just to hear the crescendo of that V8. Won’t help you with points in your licence though.