It’s easy to become jaded without context. With it, even easier.
You step into another million-horsepower V8 twin-turbocharged caricature — gaping grille, enormous wheels, carbon fibre reinforced plastic rear bumper with grand ambitions of being a diffuser — and you wield two tonnes of excess with not a scant regard for self preservation.
That’s the car’s job anyway, keeping you alive. This pedal makes it go, this one makes it stop, and a squared off steering wheel (for knee clearance, so that your Nomex doesn’t rub on the Alcantara…) makes it turn. Feel? Nah. You can have some 12.3-inch screens though.
Yes, lots of today’s sportscars, while never better, have forgotten most of what they once knew about pure driving fun. It’s the age of more, where a bigger number is always the right answer.
This horsepower war never did much good for anybody, except sales. Meanwhile neglected driving enthusiasts are left to asking themselves whether the Porsche 996 really was all that ugly. Hindsight does wonders for used car values.
There is almost no such thing as a bargain any more. With diluted performance cars full of electronics and weight in new car showrooms, even relatively recent stuff is starting to be priced out of reach of most of us, instead of just depreciating into my arms. Some complained about the hydraulic steering in the E92 M3, but it would probably be best in class today. What, a decade later?
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So while they wage war in marketing departments from Affalterbach to Zuffenhausen (it’s an A to Z analogy — don’t mind the fact the two towns are only minutes apart), driving enthusiasts are left unsatisfied, forced to rummage for MX-5s and Toyota 86s. Even hot hatchbacks went to the front — 300 horsepower just gets you started. A Focus RS weighs 1.6-tonnes.
The new Ferrari 488 Pista, too, has more power. Cold, hard numbers, anyone can understand, but even the second, fifth, 12th time you floor it in this car it’s hard to comprehend how vicious this thing is. As the latest in a line of racing-developed Ferraris to follow the 360 Challenge, 430 Scuderia, and 458 Speciale, the 488 Pista develops 100 horsepower more than the 488 GTB it’s based on, but never mind those comparisons.
It’s so thoroughly reworked it could justify a whole new generational step, and in simplest terms it’s a 488 Challenge one-make race car. The one that comes with trackside catering. But with licence plates. The engine alone has had half of it redone with titanium, Inconel and carbon fibre intakes, and yet with the 3.9-litre twin-turbocharged V8 commanding the experience, the car somehow doesn’t seem overpowered, which says a lot for the rest of it.
I asked Ferrari’s chief test driver Raffaele di Simone what the hardest part was during development, and he shot back, “The expectation.”
Try to imagine how hard it must be to top the Speciale, and rattle the McLaren 720S, Porsche GT2 RS, Lamborghini Huracán Performante… Everyone expects the 488 Pista to be amazing, and Ferrari’s valued customers agreed with their chequebooks. The Pista is sold out, limited by production capacity rather than a specific number.
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In fact even though it’s the car’s launch at the in-house Fiorano circuit, with some driving in the hills above Maranello thrown in, Ferrari has already moved on. For two years already, di Simone has been working on the future, the next one.
Speaking about the Pista, ‘Raffa’ doesn’t dwell on the engine too much, as fantastic as it is. He calls out the aero, the sound, the mechanical response of the shift paddles and the most subtly tuned electronics of any supercar, and for most of our chat, goes into the psychological nuances of perfect brake pedal feel. Travel, weight, and bite point were hugely important to Raffa during development of the 488 Pista, and on these tyres and with these carbon ceramics you can get out of all sorts of trouble. Hard-driven, the brakes give you enough confidence to eventually overshoot it, and the chassis still turns in and makes the corner tidying everything up on the way through.
In the Pista, the power is absurd, completely unusable on a public road, even though Ferrari calls this a useable supercar. At just the suggestion of some throttle the Pista lurches forward, debunking turbo lag and suddenly presenting you with the next corner. This keeps making you feel a bit inadequate, because you’d think after a day of this you’d catch on to the surprise. But you don’t, and 720 horsepower (711bhp) never gets old.
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In the real world it’s nearly impossible to find the space, or the nerves, to experience the Pista wholly. This Ferrari is hard, relentless, and intimidating, the loud tinny cabin with bare metal floors only amplifying fear. The car smells it. Strapped into the deep buckets with four-point harnesses you don’t feel a sense of cocooned safety — conversely, you feel trapped, unable to move, to wriggle free. Once you’re in, the chore of doing up your harnesses means you’re in, and there’s not much else to it but to embrace this lunacy, the supercar as it should be: slightly terrifying.
Happily the engine somehow ends up playing second fiddle to the other details of the Pista that harness all the crazy. With lessons learned racing the 488 GTE and 488 Challenge cars, Ferrari used many underbody aero tricks (and that new S-duct front end) to increase downforce on the Pista by 20 per cent compared to the standard 488 GTB without increasing drag. In an aerodynamicist’s world that’s the holy grail.
The Italians also cut weight everywhere, going with carbon fibre wheels on a Ferrari for the first time ever, wrapped in sticky Michelins. The semi-slicks are supple and progressive on the track, where the Pista truly belongs, and they work well with the car’s latest-generation electronics. Di Simone mentions that although the LaFerrari is the only Ferrari road car to lap Fiorano faster than the Pista, the thing is the hybrid hypercar needs optimal conditions and has a window of a couple of laps. The Pista, meanwhile, can run consistently all day long and then get you home.
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Even if you take the manettino quite far around the dial you get a degree of safety programmed in, so amidst the noise and drama it still makes you feel like a hero. Instead of interrupting clumsy cornering with a juddering pulse from the traction control, the Pista’s electronics constantly work in the background nearly too subtly to feel. You just assume you’ve got the throttle control of a Finn.
Though the ride is firm, it matches the Pista’s hard-core character, and it’s never edgy over bumps. For comfort, you get seats that tilt back and slide forward and a nicely adjustable steering wheel. That’s about it. Otherwise the view out is great, with a wide windscreen and a perfect reference point for precise cornering in the pointy front wings. The steering wheel itself comes with shift lights which you’ll have to keep up with because this turbo V8 revs quickly enough to get away from you into the rev limiter.
Maybe some have forgotten how to do this pure-driving thing right, but Ferrari doesn’t need reminding.