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A chat with Ferrari CEO Felisa
It’s a three-hour drive from Maranello to Bagnaia, in Tuscany. But if you’re the CEO of Ferrari, there’s always the helicopter. It’s a mere 30 minutes that way.
Few top company bosses would bother gracing a new product launch - in this case the California T - with their presence, much less take the time to talk to half a dozen journalists one by one.
But Amedeo Felisa, the engineer at the heart of Ferrari’s recent renaissance, really is hands-on, and he also really wants to know what Top Gear thinks of his car. I’ve been in several Felisa Ferrari debriefs, and it’s odd having the tables turned.
Cash-rich and riding a remarkable product wave (we’ll leave Formula One out of this, for the time being), you’d think Ferrari would be bursting at the seams with superhuman confidence. Turns out they’re human, like the rest of us.
Just as 2008’s California was a slightly nervy step into virgin territory, 2014’s reboot is significant not for its more approachable character and folding roof but for its all-new, more emissions-friendly downsized turbocharged engine. This is a very big deal indeed.
Ferrari’s engineers really do bleed rosso corsa, and when you’ve got something like the 458’s 4.5-litre V8 on your CV, you can hardly blame them for being antsy about forced induction. With its complex exhaust manifold, equal length tracts, and variable torque management, they couldn’t have tried harder to create a new turbo unit that summons up all the blood and thunder of a ‘normal’ free-revving Ferrari engine.
Does it work? Absolutely. The noise isn’t quite as compelling, the 7500rpm scream is more muted, and the rush, whistle and hiss of the turbo sounds odd at first issuing from a Ferrari. The steering is too fast for me personally, but the rest of the car is supremely well-balanced, the ride quality is almost spookily good (latest gen magnetic dampers), and the ceramic brakes are the best I’ve ever tried. It is a brilliant achievement.
When I tell Felisa it’s the most ‘polished’ Ferrari I’ve ever driven, his brow crumples. ‘But it is still a Ferrari,’ he replies, rhetorically. ‘I don’t know this word “polished”…’
Oh God. Back pedal or push on? ‘Er, yes. Amazingly smooth. For a Ferrari. Especially the way it rides.’ I’m not sure Felisa really wants to discuss his new car’s ride quality. ‘And the engine?’
We agree that the turbo lends itself to the California’s more cultured GT character. Replicating the 458’s other-worldy harmonic range with forced induction will be more of a challenge, I offer, assuming Ferrari’s next mid-engined V8 will, too, be turbocharged. Felisa smiles broadly, confidently. ‘We are working on it. You will see.’
What they are categorically not working on, though, is filling the void that has opened up below the £154,490 that this allegedly ‘entry-level’ Ferrari now costs. (Twenty years ago, the F355 was £84,000. Inflation, eh?)
Unlike, say, Porsche, Ferrari has zero interest in chasing volume, and protects its exclusivity at all costs. This is a car company that manages to be highly profitable selling fewer than 7000 cars per year.
So, no matter how much you and I might like the idea, there will be no new Dino. The FF is the closest Ferrari will get to an SUV, despite the bounty that surely awaits there. If you want a truly entry-level Ferrari, buy a used 360 Modena.
In the background, there’s the unmistakeable whir of chopper blades. Helicopter for Mr Felisa, taxi for Top Gear…