THIS MAY be a measure of how overindulged I’ve become, but of all the world’s circuits, the one I know best — the only one I can remember with any certainty — is Ferrari’s private test track at Fiorano. I even know the names of some of the people working there.
So there I was, having just cleared the blind crest of the bridge and committed myself to the right-hander that leads to the downhill approach to the slow double-left bit (see what I mean?), in the fastest production Ferrari to have been timed around this track, the 711bhp 488 Pista. As the corner opened up, I steeled myself and gave it what some of my professional rivals call “full tap”.
Well, I performed a gorgeous and perfectly controlled tail flick followed by a smooth transition to the full-bore run down to the left and left again. This sort of thing could do enormous damage to my Captain Slow reputation, but in my defence it was the car what done it. I simply mashed the pedal, and Ferrari’s boffins performed the stunt on my behalf through the good offices of electronic driver aids and chassis dynamics.
It was bloody good, though. I hope people were watching. Ferrari is still the premier purveyor of exquisite driving artworks. No other car maker can cajole engineering and aesthetics into quite the same happy confluence — it does my head in.
In the 488 Pista (meaning “track”), shape, sound, smell and colour are perfectly arranged to produce such a fizz that I believe it could move something in the bowels of Christ.
There are some who dismiss the whole “Ferrari effect” as an elaborate and cynical marketing operation designed to sell baseball caps. They are simply not my friends. I can be at a dinner party and allow my mind to sneak away and think about being in a Ferrari while my face and mouth maintain an apparent interest in Brexit. It’s that bad.
“The presentation had the brief appearance of the caption ‘Fun 2 drive’, which almost made me bite the rubber off my Ferrari pencil”
But I see two problems with the Pista. The first is personal, as I own this car’s predecessor, the 458 Speciale. The second is the appearance of the A110, a pocket-size sports car made by Alpine, the Renault skunkworks. More on this — the greatest thing to come out of France since the Mouli cheese grater — later.
When the Pista was announced a few months ago, I received a call from my automotive drug dealer to say I could have one, but I’d have to make my mind up by Monday. It was Friday evening. I struggled with this one for the whole weekend. It didn’t help that continued enthusiasm for the Speciale, the last of the naturally aspirated V8 Fezzas, is such that I could sell it at a healthy profit, buy the Pista (£252,765) and still have enough change for a new suit and a slap-up fish supper.
The Pista would almost certainly be better than my car, because the latest special edition of a mid-engined V8 Ferrari has always been superior to the previous one, all the way back to the 360 Challenge Stradale. The Pista would give me an extra 114bhp, even more sophisticated aerodynamics and yet more subtle electronic intervention when you’re taunting the Reaper with a pointy stick. It might even look better.
I just couldn’t decide. In the end I decided to stick with what I had. For a start, a part of me I despise believes my car — one of the last built of the last of the naturally aspirated blah, blah, blah — is a shrewd investment.
Moreover, my orange (with gold wheels) Speciale is very much mine, personally specified in the last yawning moments of production at a time when my professional life was in some turmoil and in accordance with the mantra once relayed to me by Chris Evans: “Always buy the Ferrari you can’t really afford.” It somehow can’t belong to anyone else.
“I wonder if owning a 488 Pista is like buying a Matisse and hanging it on your wall back to front, so you merely know the picture is there. Its abilities are that unfathomable”
So that’s that, then. But, dammit, the Pista is better. This was impressed upon me relentlessly during my Fiorano visit, which I thought was a bit insensitive. It began during the obligatory pre-drive technical presentation. Everything is lighter and more responsive, and the motor sport technology transfer (largely from the 488 Challenge racing car) is the most intensive on any road-going Ferrari to date.
There were attempts to be groovy, such as a graph to illustrate the “longitudinal fun to drive index” and even the brief appearance of the caption “Fun 2 drive”, which almost made me bite the rubber off my Ferrari pencil.
Ferrari is not groovy. Rather, it is devoted to making the next V8 special edition faster and more controllable around Fiorano than the last one; otherwise it isn’t a Ferrari.
Back to Fiorano, then. The Pista is breathtaking: blisteringly fast yet surprisingly benign, thanks to all that stuff in the graphs.
For my hot laps, I pedalled it far more aggressively than I would dare in an original 360 Challenge Stradale with almost 300bhp less. The Pista’s 711bhp may sound absurd for a 1,385kg car, but as Ferrari’s chief test driver once famously said, as long as you’re in control, the power is never enough.
Now I must introduce that Alpine A110, which I was driving a few weeks ago. Where Ferrari has applied its considerable intelligence to refining the supercar idea — power, turbocharging, use of lightweight materials, control of slip angles, speed of gearchanges and so on — Alpine has applied its to sports car basics.
The A110 makes do with a 249bhp four-pot unit, but it weighs not much more than a ton and is properly tiny. It is, most significantly, much narrower than the Pista.
This isn’t really about downsizing, saving fuel or reducing emissions. The ruthless paring translates as genuine mid-engined magic and tremendous feel in a real world of unknown bends and cars coming the other way.
“I don’t take my Ferrari on track days. How could I enjoy it, waiting to be shunted up the chuff by a fearless youth in a Subaru?
The experience suffused me with supercar doubt. Just what, in reality, is the 488 Pista for? I’ve oft argued that driving something like a Ferrari is an act of civic generosity, like buying a Matisse and hanging it on the outside of your house so others can enjoy it. But I now wonder if owning a 488 Pista is like buying a Matisse and hanging it on your wall back to front, so you merely know the picture is there. Its abilities are that unfathomable.
I’m conflicted here. Ferrari says 60% of Pista owners will go on track days, but I find that hard to believe. Aside from one or two other people who earn a living talking cobblers about cars, I don’t know anyone who goes on track days. I certainly don’t take my Ferrari on track days. How could I enjoy it, waiting to be shunted up the chuff by an ambitious and fearless youth in a cut’n’shut Subaru?
At the same time, I don’t buy that tired old argument that supercars are “unusable” in the real world. Of course you can’t hope to exploit the dark corners of their capabilities, but that is also true of hot hatches.
The beauty of a track-bred Ferrari is that its ability to do all the Fiorano stuff makes it feel exotic in normal use. It lends an incredible clarity to its operation. It also makes it credible, like a watch that can be used at a depth of 650ft-plus, even though you’re not going there.
The fact is that, after fooling myself at the track, I took the Pista for a lengthy drive around the back roads of Emilia-Romagna, and it was utterly delightful. There are few activities to match the excitement of piloting a special-edition Ferrari with a rabid engine snarling away right behind your head. It makes me sick with a sort of machine paraphilia.
Should I have taken Ferrari up on its kind offer? Probably. OK, definitely. I haven’t, though, have I? But I have paid the deposit on an Alpine.
Rivals go head to head: Ferrari 488 Pista vs Porsche 911 GT2 RS
|Ferrari 488 Pista
||Porsche 911 GT2 RS|