Valentino Rossi’s racing record speaks for itself: nine motorcycle world championship titles has never been beaten. In the early 2000s, there were plenty of rumours he could step from MotoGP to Formula One. He even tested with Ferrari at Fiorano, and although he decided to remain on two wheels, the memories of his four-wheel foray have remained. It’s why he needed no instructions upon his return to Fiorano.
“I remember it,” he says, without hesitation. “Just tell me which part of the circuit it is where you need to lift your foot because of the noise…” Rossi is at Fiorano not to drive an F1 car, but to test something that for many is the next-best thing – the new Ferrari 488 Pista, a road-going sports car honed by racetrack expertise. Test driver Salvatore Prestigiacomo introduces the car to Rossi, who quickly hops in and puts on his distinctive new Mexican-themed helmet. Salvatore jumps in alongside Il Dottore – the Doctor, as Rossi is nicknamed in Italy – and the two head out for an installation lap.
Like the pro that he is, Rossi takes it steady, feeling the car, getting an eye for the lines. Then he passes the start line to complete his first lap, and immediately ups the tempo. Rossi and the 488 Pista have connected. It’s time to press on.
Rossi driving the 488 Pista on the Fiorano track Photo: Thomas Schroeder
The Pista is so communicative, it does everything bar speak. Rossi speaks little either, concentrating in silence – the noise of the howling V8 interrupted only by roars of laughter following another glorious drift.
The 488 Pista has 720 horsepower, but the appeal for Rossi is the car’s magical chassis, infused with secret engineering inspired by Formula One. It is an exemplar of balance and equilibrium, and the champion racer is at one with it. Salvatore can teach him nothing: he jumps out and revels in the delight of watching the racer at work.
More laps pass, and a few more besides, and still Rossi presses on. Eventually, reluctantly, he heads back to the pits. Salvatore opens the door. “It’s wicked!” exclaims the Doctor. The engineers who have spent so much time developing the 488 Pista gather round to hear his verdict.
Rossi being briefed on the eight-cylinder V8 Turbo Photo: Thomas Schroeder
“The turbo, you can forget about it, you can’t even feel it.” The V8 is like “a naturally aspirated engine with a heck of a lot of horsepower”. Attilio Pietroni, who engineered the engine, beams with proud satisfaction.
Stefano Varisco led the development of the aerodynamics, and takes Rossi through some of the details – the S-duct on the front lid, the engine-cooling air duct near the rear lights. Stefano moves onto the diffuser; he and Valentino lie down to talk it through. The detail is never too much for him.
In Valentino’s garage is a 458 Italia. The gleam in his eye as he admires the 488 Pista suggests it may soon be joined by Ferrari’s latest motorsport-inspired sports car great. Racers always want the latest, the best. The most successful motorcycle racer of all time is surely now racing to get a 488 Pista of his own…