The powerful performance of a Ferrari can be fully appreciated thanks to a series of specially designed drivers’ courses, organised by the Company on the Fiorano track. Called Pilota Ferrari, these courses, which are always very well received by the participants, have been running for 20 years and constantly evolving to offer a truly specialised programme. In charge of them since their inception, Andrea de Adamich explains every detail .
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Swiss precision, Italian charm.’ So says a devoted Ferrari client during one of the Pilota Ferrari courses at Fiorano. Now more than 20 years old, this university of driving currently has five levels: Sport, Avanzato, Evoluzione, Challenge and Limited Edition. Those who have reached the Evoluzione level have already passed the previous ones, and know the Ferrari world well; the cars, legend and history.
However, it would be wrong to think that these driving courses are merely a priority channel for communicating Ferrarista culture, or another way of opening the door of Italian excellence to the world. Ferrari customers are buying a dream as much as a car, but Pilota Ferrari is so much more.
Above all else, it is an instrument to understand how to combine your own personality and your way of driving with an “object” of advanced technology, as all new Ferraris are. Here a path is followed to get to know the car, but also to get to know yourself at the wheel, to develop your own style, and fully enjoy your vehicle.
The leading light of the Ferrari driving courses is Andrea de Adamich, a celebrated racing driver of the 1960s and 1970s, who competed for Ferrari in Formula One and Two. De Adamich is clear when it comes to defining the Pilota mission: ‘At the centre of our activity is the person. For us the main part of pairing the man and automobile always remains the person at the wheel, with their dynamic and, above all, mental behaviour.
‘The concepts that pass through our teachings are the same ones that are used in the cockpit of an F1 car: it is necessary to acquire an ideal driving position, to internalise the correct hand and arm movements, to learn the correct trajectories, to improve vehicle control, to know how to manage braking, to discover your own performance limits.
‘Safety is achieved both on the track and the road in everyday driving. We don’t teach anything that’s impossible to learn. At the course’s end, customer satisfaction comes from ascertaining how much driving ability and safety have improved.’
The courses were set up after the arrival of Ferrari Chairman Luca di Montezemolo in 1991, on one hand to create an even closer bond between customers and the brand, on the other to meet precise requests from customers, who wanted the Company that produced their beloved cars to help them enjoy them to the maximum. Approaching de Adamich was a natural step, given his experience and the success of the International Safe Driving Centre run by him at the Varano de’ Melegari circuit.
The best way to understand a driving course is to attend one. Although your first impression is of a relaxed set-up, nothing is left to chance, as you would expect from both Ferrari and de Adamich.
The two days are structured around a rigid programme (including both theory and practice), and although its structure is detailed, this is barely noticed by the customer. While the atmosphere is calm and very friendly, the work behind the scenes is being constantly finessed in accordance with a script that is always being revised.
Ferrari products have profoundly changed over the years, as have the clients – the cars are increasingly technological, with customers that have higher expectations, of both the machinery and themselves. Consider that a Ferrari owner used to drive maybe 4,000km per year; today they can do as many as 10,000km.
This has profoundly affected the evolution of the courses: ‘To explain the changes,’ de Adamich says, ‘we should compare a 348 from 1993, the first year of this activity, with a 458 Italia we use today, as well as the teaching and the dynamic content of that time with what we provide now. There has been a truly fantastic evolution.’
Pilota Ferrari has gone from 348 to F355, F360 Modena and on to the 575M Maranello. Then the F430 and 458 Italia arrived, both in GT road and Challenge race-track versions. It is a completely different world, where to talk of professionalism seems almost an understatement: you need to be there, you need to be in contact with the instructors, to recognise the magic of this experience first-hand.
The instructors are all fluent in English and have experience as professional drivers, often at the highest levels, which provides a sound basis for their work. They are all trained to follow the same methodology, have gone through a selection process to refine their teaching techniques, and have an expert understanding of Ferrari’s clients. Since we are talking tuition: this is not like compulsory education, more a kind of master’s degree. Everything is top quality, not least between student and instructor, the linchpin of any school.
Telemetry and on-board filming helps a huge amount. After a special driving session monitored using telemetry, the students have the possibility of analysing their laps of the track point-by-point, studying certain parameters (speed, RPM, gears used, pressing the accelerator, using the brakes, cornering and steering), and two instructors are exclusively tasked with supervising students in their interpretation of the data.
Furthermore, the images recorded inside the cockpit, combined with the telemetric data, make it possible to really analyse the driver’s approach. The improvement in driving style, at this point, is not only instinctive, but genuinely scientific.
Nor is the student ever left alone; they always have a tutor beside them to supervise their every action. This applies as much to the initial course as it does to the subsequent ones. The student-to-instructor ratio is designed to optimise teaching, both theory (taught in an appropriately light manner) and practice. On the initial course (Sport) there are four groups, each with six or seven students, with 11 driver-instructors available.
In the subsequent one (Avanzato) the groups are of four or five students, while staff numbers are unchanged. There are four students per group in the Evoluzione course, while in Challenge there are 10 students at most and six instructors (with specific racing experience), a ratio similar to that found in the Limited Edition course.
Much of the work is done at Ferrari’s dedicated Fiorano test track but not exclusively: the 2012 programme, for instance, envisages using Fiorano, (for the first three levels), Varano de’ Melegari (Challenge course) and Mugello (Limited Edition course). Courses last two days, Saturday and Sunday, with a reception on Friday afternoon.
Theory varies according to the course, starting with driving techniques when faced with dynamic activities (braking, acceleration when cornering, counter-steering) and arriving at the acquiring of the basic concepts of race driving, methods for tuning cars, starting and overtaking techniques.
The theory never becomes ponderous or boring; it provides support above all for the lessons held in the cars. Furthermore, the Challenge course is concluded with a test that is required by the Italian sporting authorities for racing on the track in high-performance cars. There is, of course, a “competition” between students, based not on comparing times on the stopwatch, but on precision of driving and control of the car.
Everything is taken care of in detail, starting with the welcome, the logistics, the catering. One detail: during a demanding day’s work (from the physical point of view, but also from the mental perspective) it is necessary to eat and drink appropriately (no alcohol, obviously), eating light meals, but certainly not like a monk (this is also a part of the Ferrari history and tradition), with a few elegant concessions to culinary exclusiveness.
How to quantify the success of Pilota Ferrari? Various criteria are available. Verifying the extent to which a participant’s driving ability is improved is certainly one of them, and the most objective. Talking to customers/students is another; there is not one person who does not enthusiastically communicate the unique sensations experienced on the track, recognising their progress.
The most interesting thing is the relationship established with their instructors: all participants, more or less, know, or think they know, how to drive well. Some students are convinced they know how to do it very well indeed. However, the professionalism of the tutors, the types of exercises that break down the phases of driving into their component parts, working on one specific aspect, lead to a relationship of trust. One that is vital if you consider that instructors are often alongside students in the cars…
The data gathered at the end of each course, the Customer Satisfaction Index, constantly shows a mark equivalent to “excellent”, that is, over 94 per cent, reaching as much as 99 per cent when students are asked if they would recommend the course to others. The survey doesn’t just concern general aspects like food, accommodation etc, but also the merits of what is taught and how each student perceives their own improvement. This feedback is used to evolve and improve the school.
‘The input we receive from students is fundamental for us,’ says de Adamich. ‘These are the indications that have enabled us to change our courses over the years, tailoring them to meet the demands and expectations. It is also on this basis that instructors personalise their contributions concerning the characteristics of driving, the abilities and the personalities of students.’
Published on The Official Ferrari Magazine issue 19, December 2012