Ferrari’s Finali Mondiali is a well-established and unmissable fixture on the motorsport calendar. Traditionally an end-of-season celebration for drivers in the Ferrari Challenge, Corse Clienti and tifosi alike, the event is now so huge that Imola’s paddock is as packed as it would be during a Grand Prix.
But while the presence of so many historic F1 cars and a huge grid of 488 Challenge Evos is as stirring as ever, this year’s gathering attracted a swarm of worldwide media, eager to get their first glimpse of a new Ferrari competition car: the 499P.
This is the machine that will see Ferrari return as a works contender to the top-class of world endurance racing in 2023, ending a 50-year absence. F1 might be the pinnacle of single-seater motorsport, but for some the prospect of racing for 12 or 24 hours is the ultimate test, the weaver of the most compelling narrative in sport.
Watch as the 499P is unveiled at a special ceremony at the 2022 Finali Mondiali
At the event, while mechanics fettled an ex-Schumacher F1 car a few doors down, we were asked to take our seats opposite the new car.
When the cover was finally lifted, it took a while to absorb what we were looking at. Conceived and created according to the new-for-2023 Hypercar rules, the 499P’s shape is dictated largely by aerodynamic and packaging requirements, but looks every millimetre the space-age long-distance competition car.
Importantly, though, the team at Ferrari’s Centro Stile has had a hand in the car’s design, adding enough graphic flavour to the bewinged silhouette to ensure that the 499P looks like a true Ferrari. Predominantly red, the yellow stripe confirms that, for all its future-focus, Ferrari is a company with arguably the greatest racing history of all: it’s a nod to 1973’s magnificent 312P. And the nomenclature is important, too. The 499 refers to the unitary displacement of its engine, while the P stands for Prototype. Somehow that’s enough to collapse half a century of waiting in one fell swoop.
The new car is powered by an engine based on the 2.9-litre, twin-turbo V6 used in the all-new 296 GT3, with a maximum power output of 500kW (680cv). Added here is an Energy Recovery System (ERS) that’s connected to the front axle, and fed by a brake-by-wire system. The ERS is good for 200 kW, and the battery that powers it uses know-how accrued from Ferrari’s vast F1 experience.
The arrival of the 499P marks the end of a 50-year absence from the top class of endurance racing for Ferrari, and the design of the car includes nods to 1973's 312P
According to the technical regulations and requirements of the hybrid-engined Le Mans Hypercar class, this allows the 499P to run with all-wheel drive for superior traction in slower corners, versus the rear-drive only cars that feature in the LMDh category. That tier also uses a communal hybrid system and is thus cheaper to enter, tempting more manufacturers to participate.
But as Ferrari’s Head of GT Sporting Activities, Antonello Coletta, tells us, that was never an option in Maranello. ‘We chose LMH because it is important for Ferrari to make all the car and all the parts,’ he explains. ‘Ferrari is a constructor, the manufacturer of the car, and it is not our philosophy to buy a part. We decided to come back into prototypes when the rules gave us the chance to make all of the car. The 499P is a manifesto of the technologies of Ferrari.’
The biggest comeback in motorsport naturally brings with it major pressure, and while the 499P makes its debut in the 1000 miles of Sebring on March 17th, the focus on Le Mans will be intense. Not least because it’s that great race’s centenary in 2023. ‘You should know us,’ Technical chief Ferdinando Cannizzo tells me. ‘We will push to the maximum we can, to be ready for the first race. The work is not easy, but we are pushing hard.’
Ferrari Chairman John Elkann presents the car that should shoot the marque back to the top of endurance racing
Ferrari’s commitment to this new era of endurance racing is significant and emotionally resonant. ‘The pressure is important and it is a lot,’ Coletta says. ‘It is normal that when Ferrari competes in a category people expect to see Ferrari in front of the others. We need to be consistent and reliability will be the most important result we need to have, as well as speed, of course. We have put all our best into this car.’
There’s no word yet on the driver line-up, but expect the names to be familiar, battle-hardened Ferrari GT racers rather than superstar signings. A works Ferrari racing at the Le Mans 24 Hours and in the World Endurance Championship is superstar enough.