Fiorano. The word, let alone the actual place, bursts with visions of Michael Schumacher obsessively knocking off lap after lap of Formula 1 testing; of Ferrari 288 GTO and F40 prototypes finessing the ragged edges of their track chops; of Big Ideas pressure-tested under il Commendatore‘s watchful gaze before he spirited away to the great paddock in the sky in 1988. If old man Enzo could today magically materialize and size up the new, staggeringly special Ferrari SF90 Stradale Assetto Fiorano, the $567,490 (to start) wedge would probably trigger a cascade of questions.
What Is It?
For instance, why is the mighty LaFerrari‘s spiritual successor not production-limited like Maranello’s past halo cars? Should a hypercar from the Prancing Horse send its power—some of it electric, as it is a plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle—to all four wheels? And how on god’s green earth does this latest range-topper deserve the “Assetto Fiorano” moniker if it can also slice silently through traffic in full-electric mode (and do so for up to 15.5 miles)? Pardon the presumed reincarnation, but the prism of Fiorano—Ferrari’s famous test track, built in 1972—makes this 21st-century flagship a 986-hp riddle wrapped in a COVID-19 conundrum.
Due to the vagaries of pandemic timing (or perhaps Ferrari’s desire to put its fiercest foot forward first), every SF90 Stradale we’ve previewed and driven (such as we did recently on Los Angeles roads) has included the $56,240 Assetto Fiorano package. The bundle packs a serious bit of hardware. This includes the likes of fixed dampers and weapons-grade titanium springs by Multimatic, which replace the standard adaptive suspension; gummier Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber (with a Krazy Glue-like R compound also available); a rear wing capable of handling 859 pounds of downforce at 155 mph; carbon-fiber door and underbody panels, wheels, you name it; and a few tasty tidbits such as a Lexan peekaboo engine cover and a titanium and Inconel exhaust.
Idling auspiciously just a stone’s throw from Enzo’s old Fiorano trackside office, the 2021 Ferrari SF90 Stradale Assetto Fiorano looks and sounds the part of speed incarnate, thanks in part to the exhaust’s thinner, more resonant Inconel plumbing. Yes, its profile betrays its lineage: 458, 488, F8 Tributo. But these antecedents have been or are commoner strains on the frontline of the eternal supercar battle, not top-line hypercar war dogs like the Enzo or LaFerrari.
Plenty of modifications beneath the SF90 Stradale’s skin illustrate and step away from the seeming similarities, especially the structural carbon-fiber firewall behind the driver that also offers thermal separation between passengers and the laser-welded, liquid-cooled 84-cell battery pack. And speaking of electrons, the single rear and two front electric motors actuate based on a complex matrix of driving goals that depend on two sets of parameters
Gizmos, Not Gremlins
Those parameters are defined by haptically actuated dynamics settings on the left of the steering wheel (eDrive, Hybrid, Performance, Qualify), and the physical “manettino” dial on the right that controls stability- and traction-related settings (Wet, Sport, Race, CT off, all systems off). Drive in full EV mode, and you have the world’s first front-wheel-drive Ferrari; dial-a-ride to CT off, and power is apportioned to the tail as the reins loosen for maximum waggability.
We stick to Performance and Race modes for our first setting, which maintains the battery’s state of charge for continued floggings while keeping the Michelin Cup 2s from stepping too far out of line. The driver’s seat is an aggressively bolstered, manually adjustable chunk of the Fiorano package that incorporates a racing harness. The pilot’s view offers a visual panoramic of electronica, from the 16.0-inch curved digital instrument panel to a head-up display, plus two so-called satellite screens and an 8.0-inch passenger screen. While that’s a whole mess of pixels, at least they’re crisp, colorful, and purposeful enough to seem at home here at the racetrack, miles away from the fussy proclivities of city drivers. Heck, if digital displays are good enough for Ferrari F1 drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, they might be good enough for you.
Although the tactile delight of the mechanical button start has been lost to a glossy haptic surface at the wheel’s six o’clock position, the 4.0-liter V-8’s subsequent blat-a-tat-tat offers an endearingly archaic counterpoint to the alleged march of progress, especially in this raspier-than-standard setup. Tap the giant carbon-fiber paddle shifter on the right to engage first gear, and the eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox feathers you forward smoothly enough to disarm—at least until you drop the hammer: The accelerator pedal instigates the full symphony of two 25,000-rpm electric motors, one 8,500-rpm electric motor, and an 8,000-rpm Ferrari V-8, all spinning furiously to apportion torque to specific wheels for max speed in all directions, from acceleration to braking to cornering to rotation.
The Driving Experience
Despite the Rube Goldberg complexity of these tactics, the 2021 SF90 Stradale Assetto Fiorano manages to feel potent, smooth, and tied together cohesively through the steering wheel and pedals. The electric motors add an extra 132 pounds on the front axle, which removes some of the delicately light feeling that typified models such as the 458 Italia. But Ferrari’s signature quick steering and sometimes twitchy response is replaced with stability and linearity that encourages elevated antics. Meanwhile, the electric motors provide outstanding grip and tractor-like pulling force to help propel the SF90 hybrid hypercar out of corners like an F/A-18 Hornet on full afterburner.
We’ve chased Raffaele de Simone, Ferrari’s factory GT development driver, around Fiorano’s dozen corners in a variety of Ferrari production models throughout the years. It typically takes at least a full session to start closing the gap on his effortlessly blistering pace. This time around, the SF90 Stradale’s copious front-end grip and chassis responsiveness produce eerie confidence, to the point of being rather surprisingly un-Ferrari-like.
While the F12tdf and 488 Pista effectively put hair on your chest thanks to their electrifying engagement, the 2021 SF90 Stradale Assetto Fiorano feels like more of a co-conspirator than a combatant this first time around. It delivers brutal straight-line acceleration yet obedient, tenacious, and tractable cornering. As is typical of other Ferraris during track driving, Race mode constricts with an almost annoyingly well-tempered power delivery, enough to keep the tail tucked and the nose aimed in precisely the direction you point it. In this application the proceedings are aided by torque fill, which bolsters the thrust before the turbos spool to god knows what rpm, as well as discreet active aerodynamics that manipulate drag and downforce via a Gurney flap at the tail.
We’re able to reel toward de Simone by late braking on the approach to turn-in points, but there’s no gaining on him at midcorner or exit. Race mode, though seamless and seemingly unintrusive, simply does not transfer enough power to rocket out of the bend fiercely enough to keep pace with the seasoned pro. It continues like this: Fast in, slow(ish) out as we aim for smoothness while trying to work around the SF90’s quick-thinking nannies, which perform hundreds of calculations per second. The Stradale is a remarkably potent weapon even with this heavily managed attack, but greater reserves lurk beneath the surface, hidden capabilities awaiting our next go on the approximately 1.9-mile circuit.
The afternoon comes not only with de Simone’s encouragement to unlock less restricted settings, but with access to R-compound tires, Michelin’s ruthlessly sticky alternative to the already capable Cup 2s. The difference is remarkable. Switching to Qualify mode unleashes the electric motors’ full 217 hp, and it dumps maximum electrons from the battery in the interest of claiming peak lap times rather than long-term range. Telemetry later reveals the discharge rate is so intense that the 7.9-kWh battery lost approximately 13 percent of its charge on the straightaway alone. Some of that power is regenerated upon braking, but the energy flow’s net sum is dictated by enough battery depletion to empty the reserves over the course of one lap of the Nürburgring Nordschleife.
With CT off, power pours through the rear wheels more generously, bringing a level of liveliness that simply isn’t there in the Race setting. Uncorked, the 2021 Ferrari SF90 Stradale Assetto Fiorano trades white glove for white knuckle, behaving much more like you’d expect from a four-figure-horsepower hypercar—and that’s without fully switching off all of the nanny systems. The elevated dynamics come with enough steering and brake feedback to inspire trust in the hardware, despite its drive-by-wire setup.
Data later reveal we’ve shaved off some five seconds per lap when using the more permissive settings, which at least superficially reinforces the idea that nannies can indeed slow you down. However, a deeper dive into the telemetry trace charts also reveals the myriad systems still working overtime to rotate, accelerate, and corner the car through vectoring and torque fill; so much for the triumph of man and machine over science.
The numbers also favor the 2021 SF90 Stradale Assetto Fiorano in contrast to its fearsome predecessors: the new model laps the Fiorano circuit in 1 minute and 19 seconds, 0.7 second quicker than the seemingly indomitable LaFerrari.
Why It Matters
If there is an ultimate point to experiencing the SF90’s Assetto Fiorano package at the eponymously named circuit, it’s that the Ferrari lineup’s new apex manages to be both startlingly elevated and remarkably accessible. Unlike the marque’s past flirtations with unobtanium—ultra-limited seven-figure specimens doled out to a select few, many of whom indulged in speculative resale—the dream is now reproducible and serialized, though, of course, it still carries a lofty price tag that can easily top $750,000 with options.
Once again, the flagship is also a Big Idea incarnate, a hopelessly optimistic execution on the premise that a hybrid needn’t sacrifice an iota of its track worthiness as it strives toward peak future friendliness. The 2021 Ferrari SF90 Stradale Assetto Fiorano’s oversized accomplishments are also enough to justify Ferrari’s first-ever hybrid V-6-powered production car, the upcoming 296 GTB. Ultimately, the SF90 represents yet another of Maranello’s grand conceptions, a proof of outrageous concept that just might have made Enzo proud.
|2021 Ferrari SF90 Assetto Fiorano Specifications
|Mid-engine front-motor, FWD/RWD/AWD,* 2-pass, 2-door coupe
|4.0L/769-hp/590-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8, plus 2×133-hp/63-lb-ft front & 201-hp/196-lb-ft rear electric motors; 986 hp comb
|1-speed auto (fr), 8-speed twin-clutch auto (rr)
|3,550 lb (mfr)
|L x W x H
|185.4 x 77.6 x 46.7 in
|2.5 sec (mfr est)
|EPA FUEL ECON
|16/20/18 mpg city/hwy/combined (gas), 51/51/51 mpg-e city/hwy/combined (gas+elec)
|*In EV-only mode it is front-drive, at high speeds it is rear-drive, otherwise it is AWD.