Red Passion

Ferrari fans in Abu Dhabi get a closer look at the 488 GTB as former racing champ Giancarlo Fisichella makes a long-awaited return to Yas.

Giancarlo Fisichella stepped out of his Ferrari disappointed. It was October 2009 in Abu Dhabi and he should have been savouring his final race of a 14-year career in Formula One.

Yet the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix had just finished and he had managed to place only 16th. He removed his helmet, told reporters he hoped his F1 career need not be over, and disappeared into the night.

Last month, seven years after hanging up his F1 helmet, the Italian returned once again to Yas Marina Circuit inside a Ferrari. Only this time when he dismounted his Prancing Horse and wiped away the sweat from his brow, he was able to flash a smile as wide as the track itself. “That was a lot of fun,” he said.

488 GTB

Fisichella, a 43-year-old from Rome, continues to compete in endurance events for the Maranello-based manufacturers, but it was his role as a Ferrari ambassador that brought him to the UAE capital. The Italian marque were in the Emirates to promote the Ferrari 488 Gran Turismo Berlinetta and Fisichella, who won three grands prix during his F1 career, was the man entrusted with providing a privileged group of VIPs – including the granddaughter of the late Enzo Ferrari – a “passenger experience” to remember.

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“It was great to be back,” Fisichella told Emirates Man after circumnavigating the 5.5km track at speeds in excess of 200kph. “It is very different driving in a road car, but I enjoyed it a lot. It was obviously just hot laps with Ferrari guests rather than a race, but if you get a chance to get in the seat on a car like this, it’s always fun.

“At the beginning it has a lot of power and some people who don’t have experience with this kind of car might be scared. But once you understand the behaviour of the car you can feel comfortable and really have fun with it. The car has so much power as well, which I think the guests all felt too.”

Suggesting the F488 GTB is powerful is akin to suggesting the winner of this month’s US presidential election might be a little controversial. The engine, which uses two turbochargers, makes 660 horsepower at 8,000rpm, while torque is 560lb-ft at 3,000rpm. In Le Mans terms, that is 100 horsepower more than the F458, which holds the WEC title; in layman’s terms, that’s more powerful than the Ferrari 640, which was driven to victory by Nigel Mansell in the opening round of the 1989 F1 world championship.

488 GTB

“It’s really an amazing car,” Fisichella added. “Already the pace from the 430 to the 458 was a huge step and I said at the time it can’t get much better than this. But the difference between the 458 and the 488 is another huge step – in power, in responsiveness, in angling, in sound. It’s unbelievable. I’m very impressed by the whole car.”

While the physical track layout of Yas has not changed considerably since 2009, the noise of F1 cars has. Similar to the past two seasons, this year’s championship-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which runs from November 25-27, will welcome a field of F1 cars shorn of their once guttural roar – the result of a 2014 decision to switch the V8 engine for V6.

While the F1 cars lack in sound, however, the F488 GTB thrives. Fitted with the Prancing Horse’s highest ever performing V8, the sound climbs both in volume and clarity as the rev counter rises. The noise has been further enhanced by studying harmonics and tonality at different engine speeds to create a seductive, ear-shattering soundtrack.

488 GTB

“Definitely the biggest difference comes in the engine,” Fisichella said of the machine that can go from zero to 100kph in three seconds. “But also the grip is better, there is 50 per cent more downforce. It’s just better across the board, in every area. Ferraris are always very aggressive, so when you want to race or have some fun, you just need to push on the throttle and you’ve got that power. But the 488 is also the type of car you can take anywhere – even shopping. It’s very comfortable.”

Combining these two elements – shopping and experiencing the F488 GTB on an F1 circuit – was the crux of Ferrari’s two- day promotional event, billed as Passione Rossa (Red Passion) and aimed at wealthy Gulf residents. Unsurprising given the success of the Ferrari World theme park, when it comes to potential purchasers, the Italians know their market.

Only a few weeks ago, the Dubai license plate “D5” was sold for Dh33 million, so the F488 GTB’s starting price of around Dh1m was never going to prove a sticking point with the region’s most avid car collectors. Their commitment was evidenced before the hot laps even took place, when a fleet of around 70 privately owned 488s took part in a car parade from Yas Island to Al Maryah Island. Fisichella, seven years after his disappointment in the desert, led the convoy.

PASSIONE ROSSA, ABU DHABI

PASSIONE ROSSA, ABU DHABI

Ferrari Middle East and India curated a customer experience of epic proportions recently, hosting the region’s first Passione Rossa event.

The exclusive two-day gathering allowed existing and prospective Ferrari clients to experience the full range of passion, adrenaline and power assuaged with the F488 range.

Testing the car out over city and track settings, the weekend culminated in a Ferrari parade of more than 70 vehicles across the capital and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience a ‘hot lap’ as a passenger with F1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella on the Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi.

The weekend was the setting for the reveal of the Passione Rossa video, specially commissioned to showcase the high-octane emotional range of Ferraris most powerful model yet, and involved guests being feted in the city’s finest restaurants, instructed by Ferrari’s team of professional race car ‘pilots’ and hosted at the five-star trackside dazzler Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi.

Founder Enzo Ferrari’s granddaughter thrilled guests when she joined a private dinner at Yas Island’s Cirpriani. When asked to name her favourite model of Ferrari her response was brand-perfect: ’the next one’.

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Images: Supplied

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