McLaren F1 owners will sleep restless nights as soon as the Ferrari FX hits the streets. Ferrari has clearly set its aim at McLaren's 1995 "ultimate supercar" to reclaim the crown as manufacturer of the fastest, meanest production car on the planet. This is no mean feat, considering the achievements of the McLaren F1. During the past 7 years, no manufacturer has even bothered to seriously challenge its place in the record books.
The lightweight, BMW V12-powered McLaren F1 packed 627 bhp, with gigantic torque available all the way from tickover. It was a showcase for the most advanced engineering and high-quality detailing available on anything short of a jet fighter, the result of a no-expense-spared approach to the project. As it proved to be an immensely capable supercar (also immensely expensive, selling at over a million U.S. dollars in Europe), the F1 also went on to a long and successful racing career, including prestigious victories on virtually every racetrack, including Le Mans.
The Ferrari FX seems poised to improve on the F1's astounding spec sheet. All the information available as of this writing in early May is purely speculative and unofficial, but every hint points toward what will be a very special car indeed.
The completely new, all-alloy 6.0-liter, 60-valve, 65-degree V12 will feature continuously variable intake runners (a system derived directly from Formula One racing experience) as well as continuously variable valve timing to pack a fearsome 650 bhp at 7800 rpm. The 640 Nm (472 lb-ft) of torque will be available as low as 4750 rpm. These figures hint at extremely flexible engine behavior, with torque available at low revs combined with the ability to pull seamlessly to the 8200-rpm redline. The engine is not directly derived from the Formula One unit, as had been the case with the F50; its compact size and lightweight construction do, however, show the influence of Ferrari's experience in the design of racing engines.
The new F1-style paddle-shift system is Ferrari's first gearbox of this type to withstand such high torque and will be similar to the one installed on the recently introduced 575M. Lack of development time meant that a similar system was never fitted to the F50, but the FX will offer its lucky owners the complete Formula One experience. Even the steering wheel is going to resemble those seen on Formula One cars, featuring the familiar gearchange pads, as well as multi-function switches, presumably for regulating vehicle parameters such as damper stiffness and traction control-hopefully not for the stereo or cell phone controls! A very direct steering ratio is to be expected, if not the single-turn lock-to-lock of a Formula One.
The structure of the FX is said to be similar to that of a Formula One racer in the way it is built around an extremely rigid, monolithic carbon-fiber "tub"; however, that's where the similarities end. On Formula One cars, the engine and gearbox serve structural purposes, contributing a great deal to the stiffness of the vehicle by being rigidly connected to the rest of the car. The rear suspension on Formula One cars is also usually pivoted to the gearbox housing. Such solutions, as good as they may sound for racing purposes, are impractical for a road car. The vibrations that would reverberate through the cockpit would make it unbearable for anything but the racetrack. Details have not been disclosed, but the engine and gearbox of the FX should not serve such an extreme structural role; rather, they should be coupled to the structure using conventional rubber dampers connected to the carbon fiber monocoque.
The suspension layout can be expected to more closely resemble a Formula One car than anything seen before in production, possibly an electronically adjustable push-rod/pull-rod layout, featuring some kind of advanced dynamic control. An active damper system similar to Maserati's recent "Skyhook" is a possibility, while nothing is yet known about traction control. One sure thing is that there will be such a system, given the enormous power to weight ratio and the amount of torque available from very low revs. Without any traction control, this car could prove lethal for drivers only slightly less capable than Michael Schumacher.
The aerodynamics of the FX would have required a long development in the wind tunnel to achieve the necessary downforce at the highest speeds. From the first drawing, its lines appear to be remarkably clean, reminiscent of a Formula One car in the shark-nose front end. The lack of any external wings is a sign that a lot of work has been done on the underside of the car to achieve enough vacuum effect to "suck" the car to the tarmac at the highest speeds. However, a rear wing does pop up automatically at higher speeds for additional downforce and rear-end stability. Detailed underbody aerodynamics to achieve a suction effect at high speed have already been implemented by Ferrari on the F355 and 360 Modena road cars, as well as in Formula One; the FX can be expected to draw from this experience to come up with a finely balanced dynamic behavior, without resorting to large and ungainly aerodynamic appendages on the bodywork.
Performance figures are still shrouded in mystery, as no one outside Ferrari has yet been given access to one of these cars. (The first public viewing is at the 2002 Paris Salon this September.) Given the lightweight composite materials used in its construction, the weight of the car is estimated at 1,200 kg (2,640 lb), leading to a power-to-weight ratio of less than 1.8 kg/bhp (3.96/bhp). This is comparable to the most extreme production superbikes with rider on board. This and the 650-bhp power output suggest that speeds beyond 240 mph would not be impossible to reach. However, there are rumors that a more "politically correct" 212-mph top speed has been set by adopting shorter gear ratios in favor of acceleration worthy of the superbike league.
On the other hand, some may feel that beating the McLaren F1 on every front would require improving on its stratospheric top speed: English magazines recorded over 231 mph back in 1998. It may well be that at least this record will remain unbeaten for some time to come. At present it is not known whether Ferrari will take this car racing. It would seem a waste if it didn't, as the FX looks like it has all it takes to make a valid base for a GT-class winner, just as the McLaren F1 did back in 1995.