When it comes to naming its cars, few motor manufacturers are as self-referential as Ferrari.
Think of it: Over the years we’ve had at least 15 Dinos for track or road, all named after Enzo Ferrari’s automobile-engineer son Alfredo, who died at the tragically early age of 24 in 1956. We’ve also seen the 360 Modena (the city of Enzo’s birth), the Maranello (the location of Ferrari’s factory) and the Fiorano (the company test track). And then there are the F430 Scuderia (named for the factory racing team), LaFerrari (the limited- edition hybrid hypercar referred to by Jeremy Clarkson, and with characteristic absurdity, as “the Ferrari the Ferrari”) and, of course, the F140 Enzo Ferrari itself.
And now here’s another, the Ferrari F8 Tributo, the mid-engine successor to the 488 supercar unveiled at last year’s Geneva motor show. About whose name you might reasonably ask, a tributo to what? To the late Enzo’s dad, his mum, or perhaps his dog? None of the above – bizarrely enough, it’s actually an homage to its own engine, a 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 nestled far down in the chassis, which you can spy through the car’s rear window.
While trying to wrap your head around such narcissistic circularity, it’s worth remembering that Ferrari does have plenty to be self-satisfied about. Only last month the 73-year-old company took part in its 1,000th Formula 1 grand prix, and though the current 2020 season has turned out to be one it would prefer to forget, it’s not only the oldest team taking part in the series, with a continued participation since 1950, but with 16 constructors’ championships and 15 drivers’ titles it’s also the most successful. Commercially, aside from being unusually profitable for a traditional motor company, Ferrari also has the kind of brand equity that other companies would kill for, and its cars heavily populate the lists of the most enduringly desirable: a 1962 250 GTO Berlinetta that was auctioned in 2018 for more than US$48 million stands as the most expensive automobile ever sold.
And then there’s the matter of the Tributo’s 3.9-litre motor, versions of which are found in all Ferrari’s current V8 cars. As well as being voted International Engine of the Year four consecutive times, it’s also been rated by the IEY jurors as the best engine of the past 20 years – something well worth bragging about.
Inevitably, the six years since this family of power units first appeared have seen considerable evolution, with outputs steadily rising from the 552bhp of the 2014 California T to the almost unbelievable 769 horses of the latest SF90 Stradale hypercar. In the Tributo, this magnificent motor – which has been developed from that of the outgoing 488 Pista, and features new internals and cylinder heads – delivers 710bhp at a rousingly frenetic 8,000rpm, along with a thumping 770Nm of torque that kicks in low enough in the rev band to provide in-gear acceleration that’s positively mind-warping. Hefty numbers such as these mean a maximum speed of 340km/h and a 2.9-second dash from zero to 100 that will have you swearing loudly in disbelief and leave your legs quivering, yet it’s also so flexible that you can dawdle quite happily through town at 50km/h in fifth.
While it’s not hard to understand why Ferrari’s so eager to blow its own trumpet about this epic engine, it should be stressed that the F8 is very much more than a finely engineered V8 on wheels. Based as it is on the 488, which itself came very close to the ideal of what a contemporary supercar should be, the Tributo inches even closer to perfection, not only in the engine bay, but also in terms of its chassis, aerodynamics and cabin. Moreover, it manages to meld the awesomely hardcore performance and dynamics of the track-focused Pista with the manners, refinement and usability of a car that can comfortably – and realistically – be used as a daily driver. And that’s something you couldn’t say about many supercars even 10 years ago.
Rather than wearing the flamboyant Rosso Corsa or Giallo Modena paintwork that bedecks the majority of Ferraris, my Tributo test car is finished in a sober shade of grey that emphasises the almost weapon-like functionality of its lines. Less elegantly beautiful than ruthlessly effective, it’s designed around aerodynamics rather than styled in any conventional sense, with a frontage dominated by track-inspired S-duct that forces the bows towards the tarmac before neatly directing the airflow up and over the roof to the rear spoiler.
Nonetheless, the company’s central styling department has worked its considerable magic to ensure that a body as technical as this still manages to look as sensational as it does. The tail treatment, for instance, nails it far better than any recent Ferrari I can think of, with four circular lights providing an evocative visual link to ’70s forebears such as the Dino 246, the 328 and the Berlinetta Boxer.
Although Ferraris have been steadily creeping towards the posh end of the austerity/luxury continuum, functionality still holds sway in a cockpit that’s the epitome of “driver-focused”. Not that it’s in any way spartan: Leather and other materials, as well as workmanship, are more than up to par, and the seats excellent with superb vertical and lateral support delivering a driving position that verges on the fabulous.
I’m still not a convert to steering wheels festooned in F1-style buttons and switches, preferring the simplicity offered by McLaren, but once the small helm is in your hands and you’re twirling the car along a fast and bendy road, well, it doesn’t get more exhilarating than this. My only complaint here – and it’s a mild one – regards the foot pedals, which seem either a little small or too close together, though possibly that’s the fault of my size-44.5 Clarks.
Shattering performance aside, what really sticks in the mind are the fast and scalpel-incisive steering, and an absolutely brilliant chassis, the latter so cleverly fettled with electronic aids – such as Ferrari’s vaunted Side-Slip Angle Control and Dynamic Enhancer – that the car’s incredible grip and dainty balance, as well as handling that seems utterly responsive to the merest inputs on the wheel, all appear to be the result of the driver’s own exceptional abilities. As for throttle response and power delivery, they’re so instant, linear and unrelenting that it’s nigh-impossible to imagine a turbo engine is sitting right behind you.
The other thing that strikes you is that, in spite of everything happening so quickly it’s hard for the human brain to keep up, it’s all so civilised. Like its great rival McLaren, Ferrari appears to have completely mastered the conflicting demands of handling versus refinement and comfort. Not only will this car carve up the countryside with remarkable fluidity and precision, but it leaves you mercifully unshaken as it does so.
Who knows whether the F8 marks the beginning of the end for Ferrari’s V8-powered supercars; it is, after all, common knowledge that development of a V6-hybrid powertrain is well under way at Maranello. But if this remarkable machine turns out to be the swansong for one of the most amazing internal-combustion engines of our time, then it’s hard to imagine a more dazzling final flourish.
The mind may still boggle at the notion of anything – certain populist politicians obviously excepted – being an homage to itself, but tribute acts really don’t get any better than this.
(All images: Christiaan Hart)
This story first appeared in Prestige Hong Kong.