Sydney Motorsport Park, in the outer western suburbs of Australia’s largest city, is an impressive facility, if strangely positioned. It sits between Arnott’s biscuit factory and the Suez rubbish dump. Depending on which way the wind blows, the track is enveloped in the comforting scent of baked goods or something far less attractive.
Fortunately, the day we arrived to test the new Ferrari F8 Tributo was good in every sense. The aroma was of warm biscuits, the weather near perfect and the sight of two examples of the low and lithe new model — one in red, the other in graphite — was easy on the eyes.
Then they were fired up, producing a louder and more guttural sound than the outgoing 488 GTB. As well as making the newcomer more comfortable, Ferrari has made it, perhaps counterintuitively, noisier. That is in response to criticism of the 488’s comparatively subdued tone. In such a car, raucous engine noise is considered a luxury.
The F8 Tributo name is a homage to Ferrari’s current V8 engine, which has won many international engine awards. It may be getting its last run here as a “standalone” engine. Ferrari is preparing various iterations of its petrol- electric hybrid drivetrain to meet emission targets without sacrificing performance. It is likely that every Ferrai model will soon have some level of hybridisation.
In the format used here, Ferrari V8 has a 3.9-litre capacity and twin turbos. It is packed with exotic metals and racing technologies and produces 530kW and 770Nm. That’s a healthy dose more than the standard 488 GTB it replaces and exactly the same output as the harder edge (and vastly more expensive) “hot rod” version of the 488 known as Pista.
We lucky few at Eastern Creek — home to Sydney Motorsport Park — were doubly so, because we were there just before the big Covid-19 shutdown. After sipping the coffee that is provided at every event involving Italian cars, there was only the sense of touch to be satiated. That was accounted for with typically superb leather and Alcantara-lined Ferrari interiors. The F8 Tributo cabin is slightly plusher than the 488 GTB, and a great deal more so than the lighter, more track-focused Pista.
Originally scheduled for delivery to southern hemisphere markets in late 2020, there’s now no guarantee when the F8 Tributo will reach customers in Singapore given that Ferrari’s factory was closed during the worse of the pandemic and has only just reopened. However, officials still seem confident it won’t be too far off from the original timing.
As a stopgap, Ferrari shipped out a couple of English- specification cars to Australia for evaluation by media and potential customers in the region. We were at a racing circuit as an expedience; the cars were pre-production models and not legal for road use. However, because every Ferrari is designed to be capable of track use (and is extensively tested at the company’s own Fiorano circuit), there were no special conditions or restrictions necessary at Sydney Motorsport Park.
Ferrari insists that each remake, including this F8 Tributo, is a brand new car and not merely an update. Yet Ferrari observers will know that the F8 Tributo silhouette and basic package has not changed a great deal since the 458 Italia (2009–2015).
The latest bodywork though has many “tributes” of its own: The five-spoke wheels are reminiscent of those on the Daytona from the 1970s, the Perspex-type engine cover is influenced by the one seen on the F40 in the 1980s, while the tail lights recall the 355 from the 1990s. Look harder, and you’ll find more features harking back to classic Ferraris.
On a more functional level, there’s the S-Duct seen on the Pista. This “hole in the nose” creates a channel of air to tie down the front end at high speed. The F8 Tributo styling is certainly spectacular; some may find it a little busy and/ or aggressive, but that’s pretty normal for the sportiest V8 in the Ferrari range (there is also the front-engined Portofino cabrio). If you’re looking for a more elegant and understated grand tourer, check out the brand’s new Roma coupe.
The F8 Tributo is said to be 40kg lighter and 10 percent more aerodynamically efficient compared to the 488 GTB.
Many Ferrari purists bemoan the passing of the naturally aspirated V8 in favour of the turbo. Certainly, the non-turbo solution affords a more linear power delivery and a simply majestic exhaust note. The turbo, though, produces more torque at every engine speed, with lower fuel consumption and emissions in normal driving.
On the track, the world is flashing by too quickly to worry too much about such small details. The F8 Tributo is a rocketship, even by Ferrari’s standards. It leaps forward, throwing you back in the seat from rest, and with the surge that follows each gear change.
This engine has very little lag and loves to spin. The revs are indicated by a series of lights at the top of the steering wheel, which stay green then red-line (or red-dot) as you hit 8,000 rpm. Just before the sweeper at the end of the main straight, our car’s speedo was displaying just over 250km/h. With more straight, it would, in theory, reach 340km/h.
The carbon-ceramic brakes can wash off speed as dramatically as you’ve picked it up. The car sits flat through fast corners — its beautifully weighted and very direct steering allows you to position the car precisely on the track. That’s very necessary because there are several concrete walls separated from the edge of the tarmac by relatively short expanses of grass.
The huge, instantly available torque means you can stay in fairly high gears to minimise wheelspin, but still bullet out of tight corners. Given that the F8 Tributo is race-car quick, it takes a moment to realise you don’t quite have race-car grip. You are on road tyres, and the prodigious power and high speeds mean you need to make allowances.
The driver can adjust a huge number of settings to achieve the required balance. It is possible to turn off all the electronic safety systems and rely purely on your own skills with the wheel and pedals. It is unlikely to make you quicker though. Only the best professional drivers can beat the inbuilt systems that restrict wheelspin and selectively brake the wheels to stay on line, and even those drivers are finding it harder and harder.
The official time for this car around Ferrari’s Fiorano circuit is 1 minute 22.5 seconds. That’s half a second quicker than the 488, but a full second slower than Pista. On a track, Pista’s reduced weight and harder edge chassis engineering shines. In almost all other conditions, most will be happier and more comfortable with the F8 Tributo.
The story first appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of A Magazine.