It looms down on you from its grass mound like an 80-metre-long mollusc. Or maybe a gigantic trombone. Or, most appropriately, an outsize turbocharger. This is the Galleria del Vento, or wind tunnel, where technicians test and hone the aerodynamics of Ferrari's racing cars at full scale. It's an air pump, just as a turbocharger is an air pump.
The wind tunnel was one of the first high-profile projects in Ferrari's Formula Uomo project to rejuvenate the factory with a series of new buildings from star architects. It was a stunning statement of intent.
Ferrari chose Renzo Piano for the building, which was opened in 1997. At the time, Piano was best known for the Pompidou Centre in Paris, a collaboration with Richard Rogers. He was also working on a vast section of the newly freed Potzdamer Platz in the reunified Berlin.
He had completed the huge, earthquake-proof Kansai International Airport terminal on an artificial island in Osaka Bay, Japan. Since, the London Shard is perhaps his signature building. Small wonder Piano calls himself engineer as well as architect.
Piano wanted to make the internal functioning of the wind tunnel very explicit in its outer aspect. It is, he said, ‘More like an enormous machine than a building, in the way that all the mechanisms and apparatus are on show instead of being hidden from view.’
And yet it has the compelling beauty of pure industrial design. Which couldn't be more apposite given the purpose in every Ferrari car's external design, whether the racers or GTs.
The most visible part of the building is the air circulation pipe. It takes air from behind the test car, and brings it back again to the compression fan.
That fan has a power of more than two megawatts. It pushes air past the car at up to Formula One speeds. In the lab part of the building, engineers measure and analyse the forces produced on the car in each dimension.
The car itself is dotted with sensors to measure the pressure and velocity of the air as it flows over and through the bodywork and is redirected by the aerodynamic elements.
The floor of the tunnel is a conveyor that moves at the same speed as the wind hitting the car. This is vital for the engineers measuring aerodynamic ground effects and from there finding ways to improve downforce.
A system of pivots and jacks can twist the car to simulate driving through cross winds. Air passing through the tunnel is precisely controlled, not just in speed and direction but also humidity and temperature, which is fixed to within 0.5 degree centigrade.
By the way, the tunnel hasn't only been used for cars. Italian Olympic and Paralympic teams have tested the aero properties of their equipment and the way they position themselves on it.
The wind tunnel is right at the factory entrance on Via Grizzaga. Once seen, it engraves itself on your mind, not just as a shape but as a living testament to Ferrari's commitment to technical expertise and functional beauty.
Standing sentinel by the gate, the Galleria del Vento, as much as the Cavallino logo, reassures you that you have arrived at Ferrari.