TEAM SPIRIT
evo India|August 2020
Built to celebrate 90 years of Scuderia Ferrari, the 986bhp, hybrid-powered SF90 Stradale is Maranello’s most powerful road car yet. But is it also its best?
RICHARD MEADEN

THIS IS A SERIES PRODUCTION CAR. THIS is a series production car. The more exposure you have to the SF90 Stradale, the more you have to remind yourself that rather than a once-a-decade successor to the LaFerrari, this near-as-dammit 1000bhp mid-engined hybrid is the new flagship of Ferrari’s bread and butter range.

The timing is interesting, arriving as it does in the tumultuous age of Covid-19. This much is evidenced from the scenes at both the factory and Fiorano test track, where masked gate guardians zap your forehead with a thermometer before allowing you into the facility, and test cars are meticulously sterilised between drivers.

Ferrari was ravaged by the virus, but everyone is now back at work. Apparently the spectacular Marco Viscontidesigned factory canteen no longer offers freshly made pizzas – grazie Covid, bastardo – but as far as making the fastest, most technologically advanced and commercially viable supercars on the planet is concerned, it’s very much back to business as usual on Via Abetone Inferiore.

It’s also a return to familiar and, I have to say, comforting ground for Ferrari’s model hierarchy. Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s it was always a mid-engined machine that sat atop the range, be it a Berlinetta Boxer or the family of Testarossas that culminated in the F512M. These cars always seemed impossibly exotic to me, so when the elegant and understated 550 came along I found it a little perplexing that Ferrari had apparently stepped away from making show-stopping supercars.

Since then the front-engined flagships have become fiercer, faster and more extrovert with every iteration. Nobody needs a car as quick as the 812 Superfast, but there’s no disputing its star power in the showroom range. Quite how you top it, or indeed why you’d want to top it is a question I’ve asked myself whenever I’ve been fortunate enough to drive one. And yet here we are, standing in Fiorano’s leafy, sun-dappled paddock waiting with mild trepidation (and thoroughly sanitised hands) to experience a whole new kind of Ferrari.

How different became clear in the days before the launch. Due to social distancing requirements there would be no technical briefing on arrival in Maranello. Instead journalists were sent a link to a dedicated SF90 Stradale website containing highly detailed information on all the main areas of the car, plus video presentations from key Ferrari personnel. This opus contained a truly overwhelming quantity of information, with many hours of video and many (many!) thousands of words devoted to everything from powertrain and aerodynamics to chassis construction, transmission, handling dynamics and infotainment. Fail to click on any of the documents and – so we were warned – Ferrari’s beady-eyed bots would snitch on us. Detention and perhaps even a punishment detail would follow.

Homework done with never-before-seen diligence means I can admire the SF90 Stradale with enlightened appreciation. Appropriately it looks sleek and futuristic. The nose is smooth with a pronounced shark-like profile and hungry full-width intake, which channels cooling air deep into the car. The cockpit appears to sit well forward – an impression created by the black turret top and sharply rising haunches – with a tightly cinched waistline to give the flanks sculpted physique.

It’s much busier at the rear, thanks to large venturi tunnels with complex vanes that pluck and tweak the departing underbody airflow. A pair of large, high-set centrally mounted exhaust pipes poke from the rear bumper with four oblong tail lights that – whisper it – have a passing resemblance to those on the new C8 Corvette. The rear decklid is the least pleasing aspect of the design, and must have posed the stylists major headaches as there’s clearly a lot of hardware and significant cooling requirements to package within the rear half of the car.

All this said, when we do head out onto the roads, the SF90 has a reassuring effect on all who see it; the nods, waves, cheers and hoots from passing traffic suggest the supercar’s power to excite is undiminished.

I’m almost reluctant to get into the technicalities of the SF90 because, frankly, we could fill several issues of the magazine attempting to describe the nuts and bolts. And yet, to gloss over what lies beneath its skin would be to ignore what must rank as one of the most complex streetcars ever made.

In ultra-simplistic terms the SF90 is Ferrari’s first plug-in hybrid. It’s also the first in its class. We’ll talk about the hot, noisy 769bhp element of the powertrain in a moment, but for now try to wrap your head around the 217bhp electric bit. There are three motors – one for each front wheel and a third sandwiched between the largely new twin-turbo V8 and the all-new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. Electric drive is therefore provided through the front wheels, which makes the SF90 the world’s first front-wheel-drive Ferrari – at least when it’s running in electric-only mode. But it’s also all-wheel drive when the front motors are driving the front axle and the V8 is powering the rear, and then above 200kmph it becomes rear-wheel drive as the front motors disengage completely. Still with me? Good.

The SF90’s 7.9kWh lithium-ion battery produces a peak of 162kW (217bhp), split between front and rear motors according to drive mode and road speed. The electric drive system is also used to replace reverse gear, and as a source of torque-fill to mitigate turbo lag. Not that there is much, but hey. In addition, the SF90 uses its front-axle motors to provide torque vectoring to trim the car’s line when powering out of corners, rather than using the brakes to nibble at the over-rotating wheel.

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