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60 Years of Mid-Engine Masterpieces

A wild horse in the Nebrodi Forest

Formula 2 and Ferrari Driver Academy’s Marcus Armstrong pilots the F8 Spider through the unforgiving Sicilian landscape with the roof down and a smile on his face
Words – Ross Brown
Photos - Giuliano Koren
Video – Max Morelli

It’s a cool morning high up in the Nebrodi mountains of Sicily.

Low mist gently moves over our heads, softly caressing the cork branches of the lush forest, passing down from the lofty hights of the Sicilian Apennines on its way to the coast.

Around us, trees hug the road, at times so thick that’s impossible to see into the canopy, a sea of green, running alongside the tarmac, guiding us into the endless corners and marking out the emerging straights. 

There are wild horses in this forest, known as the Sanfratellani and named after the small town of San Fratello, which is somewhere down there below us, nestled at the foot of the Nebrodi slopes. But there’s no sign of them today, because right now there’s a very different type of horse out for its morning run. Only this horse can achieve 0-62km/h in 2.9 seconds and keep going until it reaches 211 mph. The F8 Spider is also bright yellow and incredibly loud.

Marcus Armstrong preparing to take the formidable F8 Spider through the Nebrodi Forest

The noise of the V8 is unmistakable. Down on the winding roads that hug Sicily’s coastline, or even higher on the long open drives that lead up to the volcanic summit of Mount Etna, the engine’s howl cascades out along the flat rocky surfaces unhindered for miles. Here in the forest, it literally bounces straight back off the trees and the effect in the F8 Spider’s cockpit - with the roof firmly locked away behind our heads - is both dramatic and emotional.

“It is intoxicating isn’t it,’ laughs Formula 2 and Ferrari Driver Academy’s Marcus Armstrong as he threads the car into yet another corner. “The F8 Spider just sounds amazing. You literally hear the brute force of the engine straight away and that’s extremely special for a driver, it’s an emotional thing.” 

"You can do anything with the F8; take it to the beach, head to the mountains, visit the track, it just has so many qualities. It's fast but also just the whole elegance of the car appeals to me." Marcus Armstrong

Born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2000, Marcus climbed into his first go kart when he was ten years old, won the National Championship a year later and from there the young New Zealander has never looked back. A successful trial at the Fiorano Circuit saw him join the FDA (Ferrari Driving Academy) in 2016 and today he resides in Formula 2 with the DAMS team, one eye firmly on Formula 1 . 

Actually, today he’s happily gunning the F8 through a Sicilian national park, maximising the V8 soundtrack and chuckling happily with every press of the throttle, the Spider unleashing instant power via zero turbo lag. 

Once home to the famous 73km Targo Florio endurance road race, Sicily offers some of the most dramatic driving roads available. They are also some of the bumpiest, not that Marcus appears to be the slightest bit worried about the unforgiving surface. Indeed, he seems to be enjoying it.

There are wild horses here in the forest but there is no sign of them today, because right now there's a very different kind of horse out for its morning run. The F8 Spider achieves 0-62mph in 2.9 seconds and keeps going to 211mph

“It is possible to make the suspension slightly softer, he says. “The car becomes a little more forgiving on roads like these, but I prefer the set-up as basic as possible. That way you can feel every single sensation from the road, and you can control the car better that way.” 

Another bend, another quick gear change, and we suddenly break out from the treeline and into the light. It seems the perfect time to pull over for a coffee and enjoy the sunshine that’s slowly breaking through the clouds…

TOFM: What do you think you’ll remember the most about this car, Marcus?”

MA: The power and the grip first. Then the reaction of people when we drove past them – that was a real highlight for me, driving through a small town and seeing everybody’s facial expressions, it was something quite special

TOFM: It’s a cool misty morning, yet we still seem to have the roof down.

MA: That’s what makes the F8 Spider so special though. You can almost be part of nature at the same time as driving, especially here in such a fantastic location. I like the cold air and wind in the face, it feels very natural.

"The roof down is what makes the F8 Spider so special. You can almost be part of nature at the same time as driving, especially here in such a fantastic location."

TOFM: Would you say that the zero turbo lag is one of the F8’s greatest features?

MA: Absolutely, it’s very special. I would say it’s even an improvement on racing cars I have driven, including Formula 2. When you put your foot on the throttle, that’s the power you immediately get. It gives you great confidence as a driver because you know every reaction translates straight away into the car.  

TOFM: The acceleration is phenomenal, but the brakes are surely worth a mention too

MA: The carbon brakes are quick. You hit those brakes, the car stops. And because the car is so light, it stops even quicker than you would expect. But it’s not just the brakes. The car is extremely agile and nimble, it feels like a go kart and gives you confidence because you feel every movement. If you slide, you feel it immediately but that allows you to get the most out of the car; every sensation is instantaneous.

 TOFM: Finally, if you had this car in your garage Marcus, when would you use it?

MA: You can do anything with the F8; take it to the beach, head to the mountains, take it to the racetrack, it just has so many qualities. It’s fast, but also just the whole elegance of the car that appeals to me. But, to answer your question, if I had the F8 in my garage, I would only drive it on special occasions because it’s one of those cars where you need to be really immersed in the environment around you – you want to enjoy the experience and not be thinking about anything else at the same time.