Ferrari f8 2020 tributo, Ferrari 488 2020

2020 Ferrari F8 Tributo review: Track test

Australian first drive

Ferrari shoehorns its race-bred Pista engine into the new F8 Tributo to create the most powerful production V8 in the carmaker's history. But is the new sportcar king the great all-rounder Maranello hopes it'll be?
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The 2020 Ferrari F8 Tributo is almost everything your head and heart hopes a next-gen gran turismo berlinetta from Maranello should be in 2020. And not merely because it’s fast, thrilling and emotionally arresting: these things are givens for a two-seater Prancing Horse with a V8 perched behind your ears.

No, the F8 Tributo promises a new level of all-round goodness for its mid-rear-engined sports car breed, balancing improvements in pace and ferocity with more accessible fun factor in a package more evenly tempered for regular usage.

And while our first Aussie drive of the latest ‘mainline’ Ferrari, flat-knacker at Sydney Motorsport Park race circuit, mightn’t clarify the full extent of the car’s qualities, big ticks in three of above-mentioned four qualities strongly suggests that it fits the ‘best yet’ mantle emphatically.

Further, it doesn’t require much wheel time to convince you that Maranello’s gone to significant lengths to create a leaner, meaner and smarter steed, including an incongruent name suggesting this is some ‘special edition’ rather than what it is, the regular-production replacement for the 488 GTB.

‘Tributo,’ or tribute of course. But it’s no reference to the mid-engined V8 originator, the 308 from 1975. Or its fuel-injected 328 successor. Or the ’80s GTO and F40 – proper supercars – the 308’s mid-rear V8 two-seater format inspired. Nor does Tributo tip its hat to a more current F458, the last soul-curdling naturally aspirated bent-eight in Ferrari’s direct sports car linage.

Instead, Tributo is an “homage to the most-powerful V8 in Ferrari history,” says Maranello, the caveat being ‘non-special series’, or regular production, models.

That’s right. This car is a tributo to itself. After all, this is the company, remember, who named its flagship Ferrari, LaFerrari – or ‘Ferrari the Ferrari'

But F8 Tributo resonates in a way that, I dunno, ‘498 GTB’ or something else more logically representative mightn’t. And there’s one good reason why it deserves a special moniker.

Ferrari took its regular production forebear, the 488 GTB ($469,998 list), and created a hard-core limited-run 488 Pista version so special it warrants over a quarter-mil price premium ($645,000 list).

What makes the new F8 Tributo measurably more exotic than its predecessor is that it lifts the Pista’s heavily revised heartbeat and transplants it whole into a mainline model that, at $484,888 list, is only slightly pricier than the 488 GTB it replaces.

That’s before you factor in all of other extensive changes the F8 Tributo brings as, essentially, the second major technical reworking of what’s ostensibly F458 DNA. The whole machine is tecnicamente magnifico right down to aerodynamic trickery, including its S-Duct nose cone and blown spoiler system, that contribute to a significant increase in downforce without penalty in drag.

It’s all worthy of a deep dive somewhere other than this first Aussie behind-the-wheel taste test, but it would be remiss not to spend a paragraph or two overviewing the “most powerful V8 in Ferrari (regular series) history” that spurned this model’s namesake.

This ‘CG’ version of the F154 V8 family – the Pista engine – produces 530kW at a lofty 7000rpm and substantial 770Nm at 3250rpm, which is ludicrous for its modest 3.9-litre capacity and even more remarkable for an engine of volume production adhering to today’s strict Euro regulations for emission and noise.

And while it’s only 37kW and 10Nm fairer than the ‘CB’ spec in 488 GTB, Ferrari dug deeply into its motorsport knowhow – Formula One, Challenge – and upgraded 50-percent of componentry to achieve its needs for a unit that is truly ‘race spec’ for the road.

The whole engine is 18kg lighter, using a lighter crankshaft and flywheel and titanium conrods that help reduce engine inertia by 17 percent. Heads, camshafts and valve gear are all new. Meanwhile, the intake plenums (standard alloy or optional carbon fibre) and exhaust manifolds (made from exotic Inconel ‘superalloy’) are lifted from 488 Challenge race cars.

It’s run to a hard 8000rpm cut-out and cleverly manages torque delivery, right down to faint ‘spikes’ as to not interrupt drive during upshifting, for the most linear output curves and lag-free delivery as is possible, including mitigating peak torque until you’re in seventh (top) gear.

In short, it’s as clever as it is exotic, but is the whole shebang too clever for itself elsewhere? Under the topic of Electronic Controls the F8 Tributo lists “E-Diff3, F1-Trac, hi-po ABS/EBD with Pre-fill, FfS SCM-E, SSC 6.1 with FDE…” and other stuff that’ll make your eyes glaze over. It’s easy to approach the F8 Tributo presuming it might be too unnatural in the experience, too over-governed and desensitised by heavy handed computing power.

And you’d be dead wrong.

It’s appearance looks techy, carefully sculpted perhaps more for (aerodynamic) function than purely aesthetic form. It looks both arresting and organic in the flesh, though it’s not my favourite Ferrari – those dicky little door handles, the rear rump that’s a little reminiscent of Lotus Evora (there, I said it!).

Of our two Brit-spec test cars – Aussie versions have yet to arrive in Oz – our grey version fits the regular ‘electric’ seating, the red example adopting the mechanic-adjustable ‘race bucket’ option. Bar the ‘MPH’ speedo, we’re assured, these right-hook demo cars are representative of local showroom gear.

Curiously, both are fitted with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber, a personal favourite for serious track work, here in a specific compound and construction for F8 Tributo that, our Ferrari minders explain, are about “20 percent grippier” than the more road-focused and all-weather-friendly Pilot Super Sport rubber available as an alternative.

The interior is classic, pleasingly purposeful and unsurprising. There’s a modern flourish here and there, mostly in switchgear design, but at a cursory glance this could be one of any number of Prancing Horse berlinettas of the modern era as it should be. Some things in motoring are sacrosanct and the cabin ambience of a mid-engined Ferrari, free of tech-wankery suffered by German rivals, is an absolute list-topper.

The V8 fires up crisply and the F8 Tributo dawdled along pitlane cleanly, but it’s the lack of sonic fanfare piling a few revs on while entering the track that’s perhaps the big letdown. Ferrari and contemporaries McLaren put some effort into injecting vibe into soundtracks robbed of vital fizz via turbocharging and a gasoline particulate filter the engine needs to achieve Euro road certification.

There is a nice, indicative rasp typical of the breed’s flat-plane crank V8s enhanced by resonator hardware plumbed just behind the driver’s ears, but I lament the absence of the sheer wail an engine with this much shove and RPM speed ought to assault you with.

It is, by Ferrari’s reckoning, five decibels louder than 488 GTB in the upper rev range, but you really want the soundtrack to make your hairs stand on end in a measure the match the sort of pace this sports car piles on without breaking a sweat.

Boy. Is. It. Quick.

Even in Sport mode with full road-going stability control, which is how the car is set during initial acclimatisation laps, it marches as hard you dare it to. It’s perhaps the blend of ‘controlled’ sonics and the absolutely billiard table smooth ramp-up of thrust from the engine that leaves your senses playing catch-up with the road speed. You quickly learn that the F8 Tributo has a want to pile on spectacular pace without much coaxing at all.

We’re using the Druitt (aka North) Circuit, which incorporates the former Eastern Creek’s faster and more flowing sections and I’m fast realising it's probably the only piece of hotmix in New South Wales where this Ferrari can demonstrate its full-noise capabilities unbridled. But in the manner with which the chassis so quickly threatens the grip of the sticky Michelins in the gradual flexing the berlinetta’s powertrain and handling muscles, clearly this is a frisky machine not simply out to return a numb, slot-car-like dynamic experience.

Only once beyond the Druitt configuration’s surrogate chicane, linking the ‘wrong’ side of Turn 4 with the exit of the Hairpin (Turn 8 or 15, take your pick) – via an alarming off-camber hump that threatens to spit the Ferrari violently sideway with too much throttle – can you fully chase the 8000rpm redline flat knacker and experience the breathtaking acceleration through third, fourth and fifth gears.

The engine spins so smoothly and thrust is so urgent that, unlike so many high-revving engines, the rev-limiter arrives before you know it. And the V8’s torque control smarts tied with brilliantly polished dual-clutch upshifts provide relentless, swelling acceleration into the thick end of sixth gear along the circuits main straight, rock solid and composed, before a big hit of the huge 398mm front/360mm carbon-ceramic brakes pitches the chassis into an oh-so-slight squirm.

Even settled with the moderate throttle tracking a constant arc through ‘The Creek’s’ fast Turn 1, there’s a slight waver and shimmy in its dynamic mojo. It’s less benign and friskier than, say, a properly quick Porsche 911: a little more electric in its responses and keener to dance around on its tyres.

Perhaps the single most impressive characteristic about the F8 Tributo is it’s as cooperative as it is playful. There’s exceptional front end grip and assertive point, but the real joy is how keen it is to react and the accuracy it plies in doing so.

The steering is so even, natural and intuitive that the main focus is through the driver’s hips and keeping that tail tidy. Or, perhaps, as tidy as you feel like keeping it. Again, those Michelins offer tremendous grip, but the Ferrari’s eagerness to generate corner speed quickly overcomes lateral grip and the constant tugging of ESP demands a switch to Race mode.

I’m not entirely sure how the Side Slip Control or the Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer Plus, activated in Race mode, works – software governing braking pressure, or some such practice – but engineers have invested in technology intended to enhance “the driver’s control on the limit for more engaging involvement” while offering “an improvement in (the driver’s) ability to hold a car on the limit, making them more confident in lengthy oversteer manoeuvres”. Sounds like good fun.

In practice, whatever actual effect in play is so transparent and subtle that it’s imperceptible the car is going into bat for you at all. And, we’re warned by our minders, that the window of stability control intervention in Race is so wide and loose that, unless you stay on top of the chassis, it’ll likely swap ends, which would get very ugly at the kinds of speeds involved even with as much real estate as the SMSP circuit offers.

In short, the ‘drift smarts’ are light assistance, and a fool would expect some last resort safety net will ultimate save untalented bacon.

That’s the trick. Push on and the F8 Tributo remains beautifully balanced, as lively and animated as you’re willing to manhandle it yet wonderfully controlled and cooperative in reward.

It’s at once challenging and thrilling yet immensely capable. Not once during my stints with both cars did I feel to overstep their ultimate limits, though its supercar quick when driven cleanly while demonstrating the kind of dynamic alacrity you normally only get from a track-fettled special.

For a mainline, regular production sports car, what it delivers when strung out is extraordinary.

Personally, what’s really interesting is that Ferrari’s contemporary mid-engine V8 berlinetta seems to share more kinship in cohesion, polish and execution with McLaren than it does with perhaps traditional nemeses from Lamborghini, Audi and Porsche.

There’s a certain clarity and sophistication in the cut of the F8 Tributo’s jib that, in 2020, makes devices such as the Huracan and R8 seem blunted and old hat... even if I’m only left to wonder what the latest Ferrari might be like with the aural theatrics of their of those naturally aspirated rivals.

Gripes? I’m not a fan of the new, thin-rimmed, leather trimmed wheel: not enough meat to cling to in the heat of the moment. Also, the low ceiling makes headroom very tight when wearing a helmet and, at under 180cm, I won’t be the tallest bloke or blokette after a bit of red-misted F8 Tributo action. Also, Ferrari persists with the tradition of column-mounted paddle shifters, rather than the more useable wheel-mounted arrangement, though given the transmission action is one of the slickest in the biz and there’s so much useable rpm to play with, this is no real hindrance to the on-track experience in getting caught in the wrong gear exiting a long curve.

Questions remain over how well accomplished the F8 Tributo is as a gran turismo berlinetta used regularly on road, an area Ferrari makes some boasts about and something we’re keen to assess in future.

It’s also evasive about the topic of cost options and didn’t supply details at launch, though if track record is anything to go by basic essentials such as a reversing camera and parking sensors – both fundamental safety features – and practical features such as a nose lift kit are likely to be, if the outgoing 488 is anything to go by, pricey additions.

I, for one, will happily put my hand up for more real-world seat time in the F8 Tributo, be it the berlinetta or the forthcoming Spider. And, while we’re at it, if there’s a 488 Pista still kicking around somewhere at Ferrari Australasia HQ, nudge wink...