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Mules to dreams: how Ferraris become real

26 giugno 2018

Chris Rees

Ferrari’s prototypes are about experiment, dedication, emotion and triumph

A dark, boxy object emerges from the night fog, emitting a sound like nothing on Earth. It’s so out of the ordinary that shocked onlookers mistake it for a UFO. This craft may not be of extra-terrestrial origin, but it is, in many ways, equally fantastical: it’s a Ferrari prototype, on test in the hills around Maranello. This other-worldly visitor is just one stage in the remarkable life-cycle of every new Ferrari. To arrive at production-ready status is the work of an extraordinary series of chapters. It starts with ideas;


progresses through distinct stages – seven of them – that test and refine those ideas; and only after years of hard work is the perfected car unveiled to the public. Matteo Lanzavecchia, Vehicle Office Director, tells us about the very first physical phase: the ‘demo’ vehicle. “Demo cars are conceptual vehicles used for testing innovations, new components and new systems, like brakes, suspension and aerodynamic ideas, or even new layouts, such as four-seaters, or four-wheel drive.

We need to understand if a new idea makes sense.” Already at this stage a key figure in Ferrari is, literally, in the driving seat: Raffaele de Simone, Head of Development Test Drivers at Ferrari. “The demo stage is the only one that allows us to physically test our future engineering developments,” he says. “Demo cars are cut-and-stitch vehicles that aren’t very pretty to look at. As a result, we tend to test them at night and on their own at the track.”


Philippe Krief, Technical Director, hints at the rigorous test process involved: “Whatever we’re developing, it must pass our strict tests. That means driving up to 150,000 kilometres on bumpy roads; testing in temperatures ranging from -20 degrees to +80 degrees Celsius; putting the car on ‘shakers’ and many other tests.” After the demo stage comes the ‘muletto’, Italian for ‘mule’, which may look like existing an Ferrari model but underneath, a new model’s engine and transmission are being tested.

One step beyond this is the ‘mulotipo’, for which Krief has a special name: “I call this stage the ‘go kart’. We’re testing the chassis, suspension, steering, brakes, electrical systems, cooling and so on.” Advancing again, we come to the ‘prototipo’, where the car is really starting to take shape, and the exterior and interior are closer to their final states. Being tested now are things such as aerodynamics and interior quality. “We need to test the shape but without letting the public see it,” says Lanzavecchia.


“We disguise the car on public roads, using a lot of creativity. It’s sometimes amusing to read press reports. For instance, we put a bumper from a different model on a prototype after one had broken, and it was reported as a new design feature!” Once the Ferrari prototipi have proved that everything works, ‘avanserie’ cars are built to test production tolerances and supply chains. Then at the ‘preserie’ stage, cars are test-built on Ferrari’s production line. Krief says: “Even in the late stages, there is always fine-tuning to do. For instance, with the Portofino we had engineered the folding roof to work at speeds up to 20km/h.

In the late phase of testing, we realised that drivers were quickly exceeding this speed in town, so we re-engineered it to work at speeds up to 40km/h.” Remarkably, after 71 years, Ferrari cars are still mainly tested in the hills around Maranello, as well as the company’s Fiorano circuit. De Simone says: “Eighty five per cent of the development is done in and around Maranello. We go to other places only for fine-tuning.”


He continues: “The key moment for me when testing is when a new Ferrari shows its potential, the distinctive character for that model. After hundreds of thousands of kilometres testing all over the world, the project finally shows what will be the future Ferrari. After 14 years in this job, I still feel emotion when that happens. I feel privileged.” The very first time an undisguised production-ready Prancing Horse is seen on the public road is when the first car is delivered to its new owner. If only they knew just what had gone into creating it…