CAR interviews Ferrari's tech boss on 458 Speciale and beyond (2014)

Published: 10 January 2014

2014 is an exciting year for Ferrari. The new 458 Speciale is relishing the change to take on all comers from McLaren and Lamborghini, and the LaFerrari hybrid supercar will finally be passed on to 499 lucky (and well-heeled) customers.

CAR's Ben Pulman met with Ferrari's technical director at the marque's Maranello HQ to talk Speciale, hybrid supercars, and what's next for the world's most famous sports car maker.

CAR: How long have you been with Ferrari?

Roberto Fedeli: I have been with Ferrari for 25 years. I started working on the 456, then the 355, but I believe the most important car was the 550 Maranello. We had no constraints when we were developing it, so although it had space for luggage and an engine at the front, you couldn’t believe it was quicker and such a dramatic improvement over the Testarossa it replaced.

How do you develop new Ferrari models?

Fiorano [Ferrari’s test track] is our benchmark. The numbers are not so important, but it is the correlation between old and new, the speed through each turn that is important – we can be very objective. And the Nürburgring is important too, as it lets us understand where we are in relationship to our competitors.

But the most important achievement is the feeling from the car: we can speak about it for ours, make technical presentations, listen to the engineers, but the most important thing for me is when I take the cars home in the evening and see if what my team is telling me matches my subjective impressions.

Which feature on the latest generation of Ferraris are you proudest of?

I am not able to love one particular component on our cars. I have no interest in the components, my interest is in the overall system and to make sure the subsystems are consistent with the idea of the car we want to put on the road.

I know our customers’ favourite part of the 430 Scuderia was the [automated manual] F1 gearbox, not the engine, but it was at a very high level of evolution after 10 years of work. So we developed the 458 Italia for both the F1 gearbox and the dual-clutch gearbox, because although we knew the advantages of the DCT (a seamless shift) no one had yet given it that feeling and reaction when you pulled the paddles. We didn’t know whether it would be better than the F1, and only at the very end of the development did we decide the DCT has the greater advantages.

How does the new 458 Speciale compare to its predecessors?

The 360 Challenge Stradale was a very enjoyable car, but very difficult to drive at the limit; the 430 Scuderia was a vehicle our customers could drive in any conditions, but only if you pushed to the limits would you understand the car and what we wanted you to feel; in the 458 Speciale there is a completely different relationship between car and driver, and whether you’re going to the supermarket or are on track, you feel it.

Where did the Speciale name come from?

The Speciale name is the last feature we defined on our new 458 model, and [Ferrari president] Mr Montezemolo and [Ferrari MD] Mr Felisa did some very hard thinking during our August vacation. The name is part of the car, and luckily it came very close to the project’s codename: /142 versione speciale/.

The new 458 Speciale has Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres – why did the 430 Scuderia not have such specialised rubber?

It’s very important for every Ferrari model, even LaFerrari or the 458 Speciale, that rain is not a problem for the tyres. It’s a compromise we have not changed in ten years, and we do not want a tyre that can only be used on the track. We prefer a safe solution.

Tyres are the only part of our cars where I can create a competition between our suppliers, whether it’s Michelin, Pirelli, Bridgestone, but what is important is defining the characteristics of the tyres in simulations before we start the development.

Will there be a convertible version of the 458 Speciale?

I don’t think we will build a Spider version of the 458 Speciale, but ask me again in one-to-two years. With the 16M [the convertible 430 Scuderia] we had our 16 Formula 1 constructors’ championships to talk about and a lot of clients were asking for this kind of car, but we don’t redo the same exercise and always avoid repeating our past.

How do you develop new ideas at Ferrari?

The difficult part of what we do is to not be constrained by the mind. The past must not close your mind, instead it must be open to technology and that technology can give you something better each time. This is what I try to transfer to my new colleagues who come from university. Culture is more important than competence. You need competence to build a car, but without the culture you can’t use that competence to build the car.

We are working a lot on innovation and more than 30% of my R&D budget is spent there. We don’t know if every technology we develop will have an application, and the hybrid system we first developed is completely different from what we now have on LaFerrari. We’re already thinking about the braking systems we’ll use in ten years time.

The new LaFerrari supercar is a hybrid – will we see other hybrid Ferraris soon?

Hybrid systems are too expensive to apply to our road cars now. I think it will be 10-15 years, not less, before we use the technology. But we will work on hybrid systems continuously to improve them and understand the technology. We can’t read about them in a newspaper – it’s better to build a prototype to improve our knowledge. If you put money into innovation, you’re not spending it, you’re investing it.

We are continuously improving our technologies and working on new ones, and then at a certain time we make a cut and put all those existing technologies into a car.

How much longer before emission regulations force Ferrari to stop using naturally aspirated engines?

We are developing a turbocharged V8 engine, but I don’t know when it will be ready to put in our cars. There are strong benefits to help cut fuel consumption and emissions, but downsizing and turbocharged is a very hard exercise if you want to retain the feeling of our naturally aspirated engines. The exercise is not finished, and I think we still have a lot of years with our naturally aspirated engines. Only if we attain from the turbo engine what we need will we adopt it, otherwise we will find other modifications to make to the naturally aspirated engines.

>> Click here to read CAR's review of the stunning Ferrari 458 Speciale

By Ben Pulman

CAR's editor-at-large, co-ordinator, tallboy