Antonio Giovinazzi on what the Le Mans-winning Ferrari 499P feels like to drive | Top Gear
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Le Mans 2023

Antonio Giovinazzi on what the Le Mans-winning Ferrari 499P feels like to drive

499P gives Ferrari its tenth overall win at Le Mans, and this is what it's like to steer

Published: 12 Jun 2023

What is it that racing drivers say? Any car is a beautiful car if it also happens to be fast. A fast, beautiful car that’s also a winning car is better still. Now imagine what sort of emotions a fast, beautiful car that wins the Le Mans 24 Hours on its debut must conjure. Especially if it’s wearing the sacred Ferrari scudetto.

Antonio Giovinazzi, former Sauber and Alfa Romeo Formula One star, is one-third of the driver line-up in the #51 Ferrari 499P, which scored an instantly epochal victory at Le Mans yesterday. Along with fellow Italian Alessandro Per Guidi and British endurance racing hero James Calado, he helped Scuderia Ferrari take its first overall win in the world’s most famous motor race since 1965. There’s another stat: Ferrari hadn’t contested the top category at Le Mans since Arturo Merzario and Carlos Pace – and what a driver pairing that was – finished second in a 312 PB in 1973. On the centenary of the race, this comeback for motorsport’s biggest name wasn’t just a big deal, it was humongous.

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Having scored a one-two in the Hyperpole shoot-out against WEC titans Toyota and Porsche, amongst others, the 499P is a demonstrably fast, aerodynamically balanced car. But how does it stack up against, and indeed differ from, an F1 car? grabbed Giovinazzi and a potent espresso to find out.

“To be honest, the driving style is not much different from an F1 car. It’s a racing car so you drive it the same way. Of course, it’s 200kg heavier [than an F1 car] so you can feel this under braking, the change of direction on the car is more ‘lazy’. But I was surprised in the speed coming here, in the last sector, how much you can feel the downforce we have… it’s quite impressive. So the Porsche corner is pretty fast. This is a real car, a proper car…”

(We don’t doubt that for a second. We’re also pretty sure Antonio didn’t really mean lazy so much as ‘less agile’.)

“Yesterday [during Hyperpole] we touched almost 350km/h (217mph), so it’s a fast car as well. So yeah, it’s nice to drive. That’s in quali. In the race we don’t push to the maximum because we have traffic, we need to overtake cars seven or eight times during a lap.”

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(We’re not contradicting Antonio here, but he, Per Guidi and Calado actually did spend a big chunk of the race in maximum attack mode in order to keep the Toyotas at bay. In fact, they were getting pretty feisty with the other Ferrari in the early stages. This was fun to watch, of course, if a little tricky for tifosi blood pressure.)

“In terms of the car’s balance, it depends on the track. It’s a track-by-track thing. At Spa it was fine, but then you have a track where there’s more wear on the rear. How do I like to set the car up? [smiles] I like stability. If there’s some understeer I don’t care, as long as there is stability.

“In terms of the car’s speed, yes, I was a bit surprised. In terms of race pace, Toyota is still ahead of us. But we put our car on the front row so the first target is done. Now we need to go to the second one, and put pressure on Toyota. It’s a long race and if we can put pressure on them maybe they’ll make a mistake and we can get in front of them. Toyota has lots of experience, they know how to win at Le Mans. Is this the greatest motor race of them all? For me, yes.” would tend to agree. And now Ferrari can boast of having won it 10 times. Excuse us for a moment, we seem to have something in our eye…

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