The Driver Academy pilota and F3 champion got behind the wheel of the powerful V8 on Italy's icy Alpine roads. Power, control, precision and fun made for the perfect 'test drive'
Somewhere in Trentino-Alto Adige, the newly-crowned FIA Formula 3 champion Robert Shwartzman has just stirred. He dislikes early morning starts, so the 5.30 a.m. alarm isn’t ideal. But there’s a Ferrari F8 Tributo waiting and that’s one heck of a wake-up call.
The name says it all, really. The Ferrari mid-engined V8 bloodline stretches back to 1975’s 308 GTB, and has passed through numerous iterations since. The 3.9-litre twin turbo V8 that powers the F8 is the latest manifestation of an engineering miracle that has garnered a phenomenal number of industry awards since it arrived in 2014. Now’s the time to pay tribute to itself, and who could blame Ferrari for saluting it?
This is a breathtaking power unit; it produces 720cv at 8,000rpm, 770Nm of torque, and borrows much of its hardware from the 488 Challenge racing car. The engine’s moving parts are lighter, stronger, and more efficient. The redesigned exhaust manifold is 9.7kg lighter than the 488’s, it’s made of race-spec Inconel, it’s cleaner, and up to 5dB louder. Yet the F8 Tributo also manages the feat of being entirely civilised at regular speeds. With v6.1 of the Ferrari SSC (Side Slip Control) software, plus other dynamic enhancements, it’s an accessible car even at the limit. As Shwartzman quickly discovers.
“I’d never driven one before,” he says. “It handles great. Even on the snow, it’s easy to control the drift. The car’s balance overall is great, there’s lots of feedback on the brakes and throttle application. It’s a proper supercar, but sits in the middle between a race car and a normal road car. It’s just fun driving a machine like this. Moving quickly away from the traffic lights, knowing that there’s lots of horsepower under the hood even if you don’t use it all...”
Shwartzman is open, engaging and quick-witted. He’s also the latest member of the Ferrari Driver Academy to make good on his championship potential. The programme recently celebrated its 10th birthday, and the young Russian – a St Petersburg native – is intent on following the FDA’s most successful graduate, Charles Leclerc, into Formula One.
Shwartzman started karting at the age of four, so he understands the peripatetic nature of motorsport. But he’s also refreshingly open about the unique challenges and the determination it takes to succeed. “It was a bit tough for me in the beginning, because I was living in Russia most of the time, and I had to move to Italy,” he admits. “That change was tough, until I got an apartment, and now I’m relaxed and really enjoying life."
For anyone dazzled by the apparent glamour of top-flight motor racing, it’s worth remembering that it requires complete immersion, which means pressing the pause button on everyday life. “I sacrificed my normal life," he admits. But the young driver is quite determined: “I want a lot of things in my life. But I know that to achieve them I need to work hard, stay humble, never have my nose up or behave like a superstar.
So I try to be relaxed, and analyse the things I need to improve. The people around me – my dad, the guys at FDA – help with the things that I can’t see for myself. It takes time to realise that you’re not always right. But that’s a work-in-progress,” he admits.