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Extreme is the word that describes the challenge of designing the Ferrari SF90 XX Stradale and SF90 XX Spider. The process called for collaboration across almost all Maranello departments and led to the development of new linguistic codes that bring out the cars’ character
Words: Chris Rees

The courage to keep exploring new limits has always been the heartbeat of Ferrari. And without question, the new Ferrari SF90 XX Stradale and SF90 XX Spider represent new extremes. Here is an entirely fresh concept: an XX car that is, for the first time ever, road legal.

Extreme also describes the challenges of designing this latest Special Series model, completed by the Ferrari Styling Centre, headed by Flavio Manzoni. To design what is effectively a track car and bring it to the road was never going to be an easy task. But Manzoni points out that Ferrari has the perfect wellspring from which to draw: “The SF90 XX owes a lot to our experiences with other track projects, such as the FXX K, 488 GT3 and the 296 Challenge. Many of the challenges we faced with these cars, we also faced with the SF90 XX – simply on a different order of magnitude.”

With its aero-enhancing triple louvres over the fenders, its elongated shape and hefty rear wing, the SF90 XX model was meant to be extreme from the outset

The collaboration of so many teams within Ferrari has rarely been so intense as with the SF90 XX. As Carlo Palazzani, Head of Vehicle Rear Engine Exterior Design, describes it: “Designers today no longer simply take care of the beauty of a car. Now we are deeply integrated in a dialogue with all the technical departments. But our mission is the same: to maximise performance and create something iconic.”

Nowhere has this synergistic way of working been closer than between the design and aerodynamics departments. The demands were onerous: to give the SF90 XX Stradale the highest aerodynamic performance of any road-going Ferrari ever, with twice the downforce of the regular SF90.

“At the beginning of the project, we had to become like engineers, to understand how to translate the aerodynamic requirements both creatively and artistically,” recalls Manzoni. “We used entirely different linguistic codes, as this car is so extreme: very brutal and impressive, born for the track.”

The SF90 XX Stradale’s horizontal tail light strip is characterised by an almost hidden line above it that achieves a ‘clean’ style effect

Carlo Palazzani expands: “This is truly something new. Yes, the SF90 is recognisable but it steps into a new dimension, one where we’ve finally been able to deploy all the power of the SF90’s design essence.”

The SF90 XX measures fully 140mm longer than the base car, with an extended tail that reduces aerodynamic drag and boosts downforce. The completely reshaped rear end features a horizontal-layered effect that emphasises the impressive width at the back. One of these layers is the dramatic fixed rear wing. “Viewed from above, the central and side elements of the wing have different shapes, while the pillars are carefully designed to be lightweight and yet capable of withstanding the extreme downforce generated,” explains Francesco Avesio, Vehicle Rear Engine Exterior Design Lead Virtual Modeler. “That was a big challenge."

These sketches show the design evolution of both the SF90 XX Stradale and SF90 XX Spider

Another distinct design layer is formed by the new rear light-bar, while the front lights feature a much narrower profile that helps the SF90’s hammerhead motif leap out within a radically reshaped nose. Aerodynamic improvements have also been made to the fenders, where distinctive triple louvres help reduce lift.

Additionally, the design team made a conscious decision to highlight certain elements in contrasting colour, such as twin S-Ducts in the centre of the bonnet and on the rear engine lid. This creates a kind of three-dimensional livery. 

Highlighting elements of the SF90 XX Spider’s external design, such as the twin S-Ducts on the bonnet and the rear engine lid, adds dramatic visual flair to the car

This sense of drama is even more intense in the SF90 XX Spider, as the colour coding appears to ‘dive’ from exterior to interior. And the design transformation continues inside the car too, explains Filippo Degli Esposti, Vehicle Rear Engine Interior Design Lead Virtual Modeler. “Our mindset was to remove everything except the essential, to underline the car’s racing soul and the importance of the pilot in the cockpit.” So, you’ll find carbon-fibre door panels with new concave sections in contrasting colour, a ‘floating’ centre tunnel with a relocated gear shift gate and a new carbon-fibre ‘Racing’ seat, its shape inspired by the monocoque form of racing cars.

Ultimately, just how challenging was the design process? “It was not easy to bring the ‘XX idea’ on to the road,” Palazzani explains. “It’s such an extreme car. But it shows that Ferrari is always growing, branching into different areas of design, and the SF90 XX expands our DNA, expands our knowledge, expands our presence.” As ever in life, courage brings its own rewards.