Sunday, 20 November 2016

Top Gear vs The Grand Tour: Who's Quickest Off The Line?

On the left, New TopGear. On the right, as close to Old TopGear as copyright laws allow...
Earlier this year, as the result of a fracas, some arguments and a loyalty-based mass exodus, legendary BBC motoring show TopGear was reformatted with an all-new lineup of presenters and a quite different production team. It had... mixed results. The first two or three episodes were middling to poor - episode one felt like a rushed pilot and was borderline unwatchable at times - but by the halfway point of a typically short series, the new squad began to hit their stride and started to show some actual potential for the future. However, naturally, there were scores of mindless social media campaigners who just wanted the BBC to excuse a man for needlessly assaulting a colleague and put the old TG back together. There are two reasons why calling for such a thing was and is a waste of time. Firstly, well, as I've already said the BBC can't just re-hire someone who essentially committed a crime, because that's a bad message to send out (again). Secondly, if you wanted the old show with the old presenters and their "chemistry" and "banter" and what have you, all you needed was an Amazon Prime subscription and some patience, surely?

Well, now we have an answer to that second part, because the immensely anticipated show The Grand Tour has finally landed with its debut episode on Prime Video in the UK, US, Germany and Japan (other nations will get it in December, or just pirate it for free as you read this). The general reception has been perhaps predictably positive, although I put it to you, dear reader, that people are mostly pleased because of the unavoidable level of familiarity on display - in fact it felt so familiar to some that the Radio Times has said "The Grand Tour is back," even though this was series one, episode one...

I sort of knew when both shows were announced that the three stooges were likely to just make the kind of show they were already making before - whereas BBC mega-franchise TopGear was now free to reformat and be different - but now that I've actually been confronted with such a product, I feel... unmoved?


OK, let's break the debut episode down (MULTIPLE SPOILER ALERT obviously):

> The opening sequence was very nice. They know that we know why this show exists, so they tastefully put together a scene in which The Tall One makes his way from a miserable glass-fronted business building in London to escape to an airport in Los Angeles, wherein he finds out that apparently you can rent a 725-horsepower Fisker-modified Ford Mustang in California. On his way to the middle of nowhere, old mates James May and Richard Hammond suddenly appear in a white Roush-modified Mustang and a red Shelby GT350 to complete the three colours of the American flag (and British, French, Dutch, Russian, etc. etc...). Heartwarming smiles are exchanged and they bugger off into the desert, overtaking cars of all shapes and sizes to arrive at "Burning Van" - a play on Burning Man - so that they can have a hero's entrance. A rocky cover of I Can See Clearly Now takes so long to finish that we have to sit through about 25 different high panning shots divided up by shots of the presenters waving and grinning at the concert audience they've just driven through (amazingly, despite driving three Mustangs, they didn't hit anyone!). The eventual on-stage intro which followed will hopefully be a one-off, because watching them pretending to be rock stars was a little odd.

> The studio tent bit varied vastly in quality throughout. The audience was too trigger-happy with whooping and applauding, although that's just the American style for studio shows. Jeremy immediately patronising the US audience's different automotive vocabulary was tedious (to the point where I felt embarrassed on behalf of less childish Britons), as was the Air Force fracas 'bit' later on that was really just filler. Also disappointing was "Conversation Street," which was suspiciously similar to "The News Bit" on that old BBC show except it was shorter, was introduced by a low-budget sting (a joke that loses its weight on such a high-budget show, no?) and started with Jeremy repeating a couple of old TopGear News chestnuts to really ram home that these are the same old guys who used to be on TopGear don't y'know...
To be honest I'm not sure why they decided to establish their pre-existing TV caricatures so heavy-handedly, because the people watching this show will primarily already know it all from TopGear and not need reminding, while any fresh new viewers are not guaranteed to connect with the characters any better for having them so un-subtly spelt out up front. Finally, the not-a-guest part with all the (visibly breathing) dead celebrities was a tiresome, drawn-out stunt that had me wishing they'd just stuck with one death and got on with something else, although that could just be me misplacing my sense of humor for a minute or two... but to me it was another on-the-nose example of them referencing the old show, only this time they didn't follow all the way through with creating the parallel and made it apparent that they probably won't have guests throughout the series like they used to. It wasn't exactly the old TopGear's most popular feature...
What was good about the studio? Well, mocking James for his 37mph speeding ticket was pleasing and there were moments of more natural banter, plus the concept of a mobile base with audiences from all over the world could keep the setting fresh... unless it just gives Jeremy different nationalist stereotypes to peddle each time. I also hope Convo Corner has some more actual content in it next week to make it worthwhile.

The Eboladrome
> We'll get to content more in a mo, but further setting-up of the format was required, so Clarkson introduced "The Eboladrome," which looks like a tricky little test track as well as looking like the Ebola virus. Their old humour was in further evidence here through corner names such as "The Isn't Straight," "Old Lady's House" (because it's near a house where an old lady lives) and the now-suitably commercialist "Your Name Here," not to mention the perilous penultimate "Cage of Electricity" turn which is overlooked by a small substation. Keen internetters quickly worked out that the Eboladrome is situated at a disused air base near Swindon and conspicuously avoids using the runway around which it wriggles, possibly for legal reasons...
After a demo lap by an unseen driver with a Ferrari 488 GTB, Jeremy gave us a half-length track test feature in the spicy little BMW M2, proclaiming it to be the greatest BMW M car... In The World - although not in those exact words, which was a missed opportunity!
"And now we must put it in the hands of our lame racing driver!" is also a missing phrase, albeit one I just made up regarding their house-trained ex-NASCAR test driver Mike Skinner, a.k.a 'The American.' If Amazon really did insist on an American test driver then, well, OK, but his grumpy in-car commentary felt utterly pointless and subtracted value, as did the "he thinks every non-Mustang is communist" bollocks put on him by the presenters - a joke probably older than some audience members...
OK, I am being quite negative here. The track does look like a good chassis test and "the same racing driver" looks like he'll be pretty handy each week at actually driving the cars. Which is good.

But now to the really good bit:

> The first proper film covered the hyper-hybrid trio and was definitely up to standard, with beautifully dramatic cinematography to capture the energy and adrenaline involved in pushing the limits of grip, driver talent, metaphors and Amazon's swear word censorship hierarchy. However, it's a shame they didn't get a road-registered LaFerrari, because there definitely were some customer cars out there when they filmed the feature about 13 months ago. Mind you, the purple McLaren registered 'P1 OOV' is owned by the McLaren factory and used as a press car, as I assume is true of the German-registered Porsche, so that particular LaFerrari was probably beamed directly from the Fiorano test track rather than being a customer car. Apparently Ferrari didn't fancy paying the road tax on it. Make of that what you will. Oh, and technically the Italian car does have an all-electric mode, but it only works up to 5km/h for garage maneuvering.
The second portion of the film - brought in after the M2's Eboladrome lap that was unsurprisingly slower than an M3 - included input from former F1 driver Jerome d'Ambrosio, providing an impartial adjudicator for track laps around Portimão circuit and an opportunity for mischievous subtitles while he described the cars in French (being as he's Belgian)... just like when they did that with subtitles on the old TopGear! Oh the jape.
The finale closed out with a bet that if the McLaren P1 wasn't the fastest then Richard and James could destroy Jeremy's house. Because the P1 wasn't on its optional semi-slick tyres... it was the slowest. So that'll be a fun future episode!

Side note: I wonder if they filmed these three cars on or near the day that Chris Harris On Cars filmed those three exact factory-supported cars on the same circuit for his own video feature...


Overall, the first episode of The Grand Tour (which is a really generic name, by the way...) ended up feeling quite self-conscious. Sometimes this wasn't a problem, such as with the opening sequence up to but not including the on-stage part, but at multiple points, especially in the tent, it lead to some slightly contrived character acting of the kind that was making TopGear feel a bit tired before it was reformatted. The trouble is, because there were genuine moments when the famous chemistry between the three of them was able to present itself naturally, it showed up the less genuine bits, like when an actor keeps slipping in and out of character. However, this first episode is meant to establish the new show and it has done that emphatically, meaning that hopefully the rest of the series will have a bit more room to flow.

How did it compare to new-new TopGear? Well if we're comparing apples to apples then I have to compare it with the first episode, which was terrible. Chris Evans's take on the show wasn't just aimed at children, it felt like it was written by children. Actually the best description I heard was that it was like someone's amateur fan-fiction where they write themselves into the show... which is not a compliment. It was widely publicised that the aftermath of Clarkson-gate was extremely messy for the BBC show, with directors and producers joining, arguing with Evans and then leaving until finally they managed to nail a few things down. This showed in the first couple of episodes.

What we've got now are two shows that are both trying to be the show that effectively doesn't exist anymore... but neither of them quite can be. New-new TopGear can't be Old TopGear because it doesn't have Pinky & Perky & Pedant who were so central to making the format work, whereas TGT can't be Old TG for legal reasons but gets as close as it dares, like the equivalent of the cars you see in Grand Theft Auto games that bear an uncanny resemblance to real cars without actually being them. In the end, both shows therefore feel a little contrived as they go to great lengths to feel familiar to us, albeit in different ways, yet ultimately can't be what they imitate.

I honestly fear that the Clarkson/Hammond/May/Wilman/Porter combination of people that moved to Amazon don't really know what else to make at this point, having developed and honed a comfortable routine over 12 years on the BBC. I mean, they had a completely new brand and a blank cheque to start afresh, yet they just re-jigged what they were doing before because it would please all the Facebook campaigners who just wanted Old TopGear back.
Meanwhile, New TopGear suffered a similar problem the other way around, having a chance to reinvigorate a global smash-hit brand that was in need of refreshing and yet not figuring out exactly how to do that. Once it recovered from a squiffy first couple of episodes, its biggest problem was forced banter and possibly still a lack of clear direction (not to mention a lack of depth in the car reviews). The first tGT episode beat the first TG mk.3 episode, but as an overall package moving forwards? Neither of them scores a clear victory at this stage, if you ask me.
The next new series of TG in 2017 needs to have much more confidence about itself, something that's achievable now they have a practiced crew and don't have the mercurial Evans to deal with.

I don't intend to pick a side here. Once both shows do find their feet, I want them to push each other to get better and promote some healthy competition, which would benefit us all as car enthusiasts in need of entertainment... in theory.

In the meantime, all we can do is continue watching both shows and see what really happens. On top of that, I'm also intrigued by the Amazon team's online offshoot DriveTribe, which aims to be a social and content hub for all things automotive. It's already absorbed a host of magazine writers and YouTubers, so it may actually end up being that which becomes the next big thing after all. Time will tell...

Written exclusively for SmallBlog V8. Do not copy without permission.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Audi Withdraw From LMP1 After 18 Years

2016 Audi R18 TDI e-tron quattro at the 6 Hours of COTA
If Formula 1 fans are impatient for complaining about one team dominating for three or four years at a time, they ought to look further afield and realise how good they've got it. See, if your first love in motorsport is endurance racing, the dominant force has now been around all century long... and they're only now being regularly overhauled by none other than a corporate stablemate of theirs.

Yes, I'm talking about Audi in LMP1. Since their second attempt in 1999, they have never once missed out on a podium finish at the gruelling 24 Hours of Le Mans. Not. Once. Of those 17 podium scores, 13 have been victories, a win count very nearly on par with all-time leaders Porsche who have now returned to reassert themselves (a heart-stopping Le Mans finish this year saw the old guard from Stuttgart score their record 18th win when Toyota #5 broke down on the final lap). Not only have Audi been all but untouchable since the start of the 21st century, but they have hit some key technical milestones along the way, such as the first Le Mans win for a car with a diesel engine (2006) and the first for a hybrid car (2012).

It's not just around Circuit de la Sarthe that they've left their mark, though; of the 185 races Audi has entered in "Le Mans Prototype" racing cars around the world, 106 of them ended in victory. From 2000-2008 they won the American Le Mans Series championship nine times in a row while US sports car racing grew around them. Top that off with back-to-back World Endurance Championship (WEC) manufacturer's titles in 2012 and 2013. They have been relentless, they have been dominant and they have done it all while pioneering new technologies... and they have done it all with a certain class indicative of the spirit of endurance racing.

Audi's 13 Le Mans-winning cars.
The middle row comprises diesel-powered cars. The front trio are diesel-hybrids.
However, being owned by Volkswagen has suddenly made the current situation very difficult thanks to the "Dieselgate" scandal, which is costing VW Automotive Group (VAG) billions of dollars in fines and buy-backs while shattering diesel's reputation as the cleaner, thriftier fuel of choice. While many argue that motor racing is the unequivocally ideal place to develop new car technology (Vorsprung Durch Technik and all that), many others in the corporate world see it as a mere folly... and an expensive one - the recent hybrid powertrain arms race between LMP1 factory teams has caused costs to spiral upwards to a level similar to a major Formula 1 team, which given that VAG also includes Porsche means that the German giant is effectively paying for the approximate equivalent of both Red Bull Racing and Mercedes-AMG F1 at the same time... with the obvious guarantee that at least one of them will lose.

When everything was rosy, that was fine - pit Porsche's petrol/battery hybrid and Audi's diesel/flywheel hybrid against each other, develop two or more sets of technologies at once and generate some healthy competition between brands that otherwise don't really overlap with each other much. Remember, we're talking about the business behemoth that could afford to lose millions on Bugatti Veyrons and eco-spaceship XL1s and shrug it off like they were just doing us all a favour in the process. Now, however, things are not rosy at all and the knock-on effects are obvious. For instance, the "all-new" Bugatti Chiron bears striking technical similarities to its predecessor perhaps because it was only allowed to make production if it could turn the company a profit this time. Audi itself could soon be made to stop using its own chassis platform for its cars, instead adopting the one Porsche already uses for Panameras and the like to save group costs. So basically, with savings needing to be found across the board, running two LMP1 factory teams has quickly become unreasonable...

But why Audi and not someone else's racing? Well, there's another, more direct issue the Ingolstadt squad would face soon; in 2018, a new 10-megajoule hybrid sub-class will be introduced to the WEC. As Porsche proved with its utter dominance in 2015, the bigger your hybrid system the better. However, more electric power means a bigger, heavier energy store (battery), something of grave concern to Audi whose diesel engine is notably heavier than a petrol equivalent - certainly their V6 TDI will weigh more than Porsche's tiny 2.0-litre V4 T - giving them a clear performance disadvantage one way or another as the only team using diesel engines, which already have to take longer to fill up during pit stops thanks to a rule aimed at balancing out their better fuel consumption. So add a possible performance deficit to VAG's need to slash costs across the board together, then throw in that the diesel technology is no longer desirable and... well, things aren't looking good, especially after Ferdinand Piëch left the group.

And so, despite them having developed a machine for next year anyway, an era in sports car racing will end with the 2016 WEC season, as announced on 26th October:

"Speaking to 300 employees of the motorsport department on Wednesday morning, Chairman of the Board of Management Rupert Stadler put this strategic decision in the context of the current burdens on the brand, pointing out that it was important to focus on the things that would keep Audi competitive in the years ahead. That is why the Board of Management had decided to terminate Audi’s commitment in endurance racing. In the future, Audi will be using the know-how and skills of the motorsport experts from Neuburg and Neckarsulm partially in motorsport and partially in production development. 

“We’re going to contest the race for the future on electric power,” says Stadler. “As our production cars are becoming increasingly electric, our motorsport cars, as Audi’s technological spearheads, have to even more so.” The first all-electric racing series perfectly matches the strategy of offering fully battery-electric models year by year starting in 2018, Audi currently being in the greatest transformation stage in the company’s history. The commitment in FIA Formula E will already commence in 2017. It is regarded as the racing series with the greatest potential for the future. That is why Audi has intensified the existing partnership with Team ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport in the current 2016/2017 season. On the road toward a full factory commitment, the manufacturer is now actively joining the technical development.

The commitment in the DTM [German silhouette touring cars], where Audi will be competing with the successor of the Audi RS 5 DTM in 2017, will remain untouched."

Audi also says there is a "job guarantee" for all their motorsport employees, whom will now be shared between developing production cars and pushing the electric drive technology in Formula E, a series in which it already supports the competitive ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport team at arm's length ready turn into a full factory effort next season. I covered the inaugural FE race on this blog, but in true style neglected to cover any more of it after that. Since the first season of racing when the cars were completely standardised, the regulations around the powertrain - everything between (but excluding) the battery and the wheels - have subsequently been freed up to allow companies to develop their own concepts, of which there are now eight different types on the grid. Having just started its third season, Formula E is what's hot right now among car makers wanting to look cutting edge, with more manufacturer teams taking part than in Formula 1 including Renault, DS [Citroën], Jaguar and Mahindra (not to mention a BMW-supported independent team), plus Audi for season four and potentially Mercedes-Benz in season five, when a new McLaren-supplied battery will allow teams to use one car for the entire race length and the aero will no longer be standard. You've been hearing all decade long that electric cars are the future and here's even more proof of it.

Plus, y'know, it's substantially cheaper to enter than F1 or WEC. That helps too.

In the meantime, Audi will still have a factory team in DTM and I don't see anything denying that they'll keep building R8 GT3 cars to sell to customer racing teams around the world, alongside the new RS3 LMS touring car that won the TCR class in VLN at the Nürburgring last weekend.

Still, while all great things must come to an end, the world of endurance racing will surely feel Audi's absence in 2017. Between Nissan's miscarriage of an LMP1 project last year and this sudden withdrawal by a staple manufacturer, LMP1 will soon be left with just two factory teams (Porsche and Toyota) and, thanks to Rebellion Racing switching to LMP2, a single uncompetitive independent team (CLM/ByKolles). Depending on whether the Toyota finally brings a third car to Le Mans or not, we're talking about only five or six cars in the top class of the 24 Hours and WEC, right when it looked like sports car racing was in a new golden age.

It'll be an absence the weight of which is matched only by that of the pages Audi has added to the racing history books since the turn of the millennium.

Farewell Audi. May you return when the time is right. In the meantime, Toyota has perhaps never had a better chance at FINALLY winning the big one after so many disappointments...

Written exclusively for SmallBlog V8

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

McLaren TOONED "Hunt 40" is Made of 53% Recycled LOLs

Hey, remember McLaren's TOONED cartoons from a few years ago? Yeah, they were neat. Seeing as McLaren-Honda is currently so successful that they don't need to put any work into attracting sponsors, they've decided now's a useful time to bring back the tongue-in-cheek animations... and when I say "bring back" I mean that they essentially repackaged one of their old Tooned 50 episodes from 2013. See, it's also 40 years since 1976, the year that notorious playboy James Hunt won the F1 world championship with the legendary racing team, so why not commemorate such an incredible season in a unique way? Conveniently, they already did as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations, so they took the majority of that episode and bookended it with fresh cringe-laughs including a direct reference to the excellent #PlacesAlonsoWouldRatherBe meme and Jenson Button in speedos calling Fernando Alonso "my little chorizo," because any joke at this point is better than that Back To The Future thing they did last year.

Anyway, it's funnier than I've just made it sound (honest!), so watch an enjoy... perhaps by relaxing on a camping chair near a Brazilian race track.

Friday, 30 September 2016

LaFerrari Aperta Appears, Screams, Then Disappears

There will be a Paris Motor Show highlights post on here tomorrow, but for now let's segue from my previous post perving at a Ferrari into the motor show coverage...

Why wasn't LaFerrari called the Ferrari F70? Well, one reason would be that it was launched two or three years too soon for Ferrari's 70th anniversary - whether that was in response to the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 is up for debate - in which case the name would be a little farcical... but maybe still not as bad as using something that sounds like a bad advertising slogan for the actual name. Nevertheless, Ferrari's special-series cars tend to be a one-shot deal, with no variants to follow... except for this time, as Ferrari has decided to commemorate its real 70th anniversary next year with the first open-top special-series car since the controversial F50 of the mid 1990s.

Welcome, then, to LaFerrari Aperta.

"BWOAH" - Kimi Räikkönen
It's more than just a roof chop though, don't y'know. Cars like these demand perfectionism and that meant re-evaluating how things like the aerodynamics are affected. To that end, little strips in the corners of the windscreen divert hot air venting from the bonnet, while a glass screen between the headrests also works to separate heat and turbulence from the occupants. Even the underfloor aerodynamics have been redesigned to channel more of the air underneath the car rather than over the top of it, one external sign of which is a little black air vent behind the front wheels, visible in this video. A more upright front radiator design also helps with these issues... somehow.

Critically, the exhaust has been made a little bit louder, while the control system that manages how the 800PS 6.3 V12 and the 163PS electric motor interact with each other and the road has been revised using knowledge gained since finishing the original LaFerrari. So it'll sound even better now that you can hear it more clearly as well as function all the more seamlessly as a hybrid.

Performance? Well thanks in part to use of a carbon fibre tub - which has nevertheless been reinforced low down - it has the same torsional rigidity and beam strength as the hardtop as well as the same straight-line performance figures of 0-62mph in 2.9 seconds, 0-124mph in 7.1s and 0-186mph in around 15 seconds. An optional removable carbon roof panel even facilitates exactly the same top speed of over 217mph, or if you left it at home there's a fabric emergency roof (for all your fabric emergencies!) rated to 130km/h (80mph), just in case you get caught out by the weather forecast.

Another concern with de-roofing a car is weight increase. To be honest, LaFerrari's weight has always been a little bit of a mystery, one that isn't helped by the fact that Ferrari had to (or perhaps chose to) homologate two different versions of the original car, one for European regulations and one for US regulations. What is clear is that the US-spec one is heavier - which would explain to me why they wanted a lighter Euro-spec one to satisfy themselves with marginally better performance figures - but by how much is a little bit unclear. Upon unveiling it in 2014, Ferrari begrudgingly quoted a dry weight of 1255kg, but nobody seems to still use this figure (that would be immensely impressive for a big car with a V12 hybrid and DCT). However, when Chris Harris reviewed the car at Fiorano, he said a day after a typically long presentation that "the dry weight is around 1300kg and wet with fluids it's 1414[kg]." This would square with info from a forum post I found that said a German weighed their car to find it weighed 1480kg with around 75% of a tank of fuel - the tank can apparently take 86L in total, three quarters of which is 64.5L, thus if we take fuel to weigh 1kg/L at delivery temperature (before it heats up during use and expands) the car would theoretically weigh 1415.5kg with an empty tank - but all other fluids - in the real world.
But that's the European-spec version. The US-spec version is officially quoted at 1585kg, which is a lot heavier! If we take away 86kg of a full fuel tank we get a figure of 1499kg wet-minus-fuel. Assuming the official kerbweight quote does include a tank of fuel, which it often can, the weight penalty of US safety regulations would in that case be around 85kg or so.

Why bog you down with all that educated guesswork? Because roadster versions of Ferraris generally add around 50kg of dry mass onto whatever the hardtop had and the Aperta is based only on the US-spec version. That would put the weight at approximately 1529kg plus 86kg of fuel (1635kg).

Not that any of this matters to you and me beyond curiosity and Top Trumps matches; the 200 planned customer cars are all already sold at around a 50% premium over the hardtop, while Ferrari will also build nine cars to keep for themselves. Maybe they'll hand them out to management and/or F1 drivers and even have a car left over for road testers? Who knows. Maybe we'll find out as part of Ferrari's seemingly extensive 70th anniversary festivities next year.

For now, scroll back to the top and watch Sebastian Vettel reflect on some of what those 70 years of history contain.

Follow SmallBlogV8 on Facebook!

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Take a Peek at a Ferrari 488 GTB's Gizzards

Last Saturday, I went to an event I've never been to before called Passione Ferrari. Despite the slightly clichéd Italian name, it takes place in the very British setting of Silverstone Circuit, site of the Scuderia's first Formula 1 victory back in 1951. It was £10 to get in and decent food could be had for under a fiver, so in the absence of market stalls it was astonishing value for money given the kind of access visitors got to what is still the holy grail of supercar brands.

Once you'd walked around the infield of the Grand Prix route to get to the paddock on the F1 pit straight, you were met with rows upon rows of people's Ferraris that they'd driven to the event. Pick a model from the 1970s onwards and there was probably one there... and in the image above you can even see a rare, obscenely valuable and drop-dead gorgeous 275 GTB/4 from 1967!! KOP 138E is probably worth the nearest ten of the other Ferraris in this image combined, at approximately £2-2.5million... and it was just sitting there! No rope fence, no security bouncers, just another one in the crowd. Amazing. I wasn't the only one that noticed!

However, this little "photoblog" is focusing on something bang up to date, the twin-turbocharged 488 GTB.

Pictured above is a completed 488 Spider which you were free to sit in and fiddle with while eager children waited their turn - or didn't, as it may have been - but I'm only showing you this one because I neglected to take a photo of another 488 elsewhere at the event. See, in a pair of pit garages accessible from behind, there were a selection of exhibits including services to maintain and repair your Italian stallion. There was a carbon fibre repair stand where you could pick up a scuffed aero whisker from inside the grille of a 458 Italia or watch someone cut through carbon fibre only to fail the same trick with a carbon-kevlar sample, while elsewhere I saw a naked 360 Modena on a chassis alignment rig... but more to the point there was also a partially-assembled (or partially disassembled) 488 GTB on jack stands.

So, I decided to get close up to parts of Ferrari's latest V8 sports car which would normally be kept firmly out of view...

I won't pretend to know what all the gizzards are, but this lot, located behind the left-side door and in front of the left-rear wheel, looks electrical. Feel free to add some knowledge in the comments! Normally this bit would be covered by the side skirt. I do know that.

The passenger-side door (it's right-hand-drive) with none of the trim attached. The window glass has been removed as well. The speaker looks like an alloy wheel from an F430! Sadly that gets covered up. The black shaft near the middle is, I reckon, the door handle mechanism. At the end of it (the end near the speaker), there's a zig-zag shape resembling the 'S' from the 'PS2' logo, roughly where I remember the interior door handle being in the Spider I sat in, which appears to pivot up and down to pull the rod that disappears into the door at the other end. I couldn't tell you much else about this stuff, though...

Here is the headlight, a more recognisable part. As is common, the shape you can see with the bonnet closed actually extends slightly underneath it. In this extra area you can see an 'R' denoting that it's the right-side headlight unit.

This is the front luggage area, minus floor and carpet. Jeremy Clarkson once likened what you could see of the Lotus Exige's engine bay from the seat to peering into your Nan's kitchen cabinet, with all the tin foil and tupperware. Such un-glamorous things are nestled under the windscreen here, including some kind of air inlet (or a windscreen heater?) and a fluid reservoir or two, plus other pipes and leads that do Many Important Things.

A closer look at some of the things under the base of the windscreen, on the would-be driver's right-hand side. Among other things, part of the windscreen wiper mechanism can be seen near the top, culminating in that gold-ish nipple.

Now let's get to the bits inside the wheel arches! As well as not having wheels, there were no plastic weather guards on this car either, so you can see right through...

Ferrari-branded Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes were fitted here, vented and drilled for greater cooling. The disc itself is 398mm at the front (360mm at the rear) and uses composite materials and technology derived from LaFerrari to get them up to temperature more quickly while also officially improving stopping distances by 9% compared to the 458 Italia this car replaces. Handy, given that the new engine produces 110 more horsepower! Weighing around half as much as an equivalent cast iron disc, each is squeezed by bespoke Brembo pads attached to a hollow monoblock aluminium caliper (6 pistons up front, 4 out back, each different sizes to make pad wear more even).

Behind that, you can see the front suspension, including spring, magnetorheological damper (inside the spring) and the upper wishbone mounted to what I think is the wheel hub - with a Ferrari horse embossed on it. Gotta represent! The black accordion-esque cylinder nearby is most likely the steering shaft that pushes the front wheel outwards (or pulls it inwards) to steer it. The wheel and brake assembly pivot around the circular spot you can see above the horse, all attached to the hub.

The front of the car is to the right of these images, by the way.

I can guarantee you that this fan ahead of the front wheel are is part of the cooling system, not some secret downforce cheat! It appears to be sitting on an intercooler or radiator, mounted up front to balance the weight and/or to free up space elsewhere.

Before we get to a rear corner, I'll break this up a bit with a photo of the central tunnel and "central bridge," onto which the transmission buttons are mounted, from the finished car we could sit in. It's all real carbon fibre.


We rejoin the action in the right-rear wheel arch area, looking at more fans and radiators as well as the bottom of the 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 engine. The purple-ish pipes in the top left area are part of the exhuast system, and as such get extremely hot (sadly I can't put a number on how hot). The system on the right of this image appears to be the intercooler used to cool incoming air for the right-side turbocharger as well as feed air into it via the thick orange pipe.

Slightly further back, you can see the rear spring/damper combo close up, along with the exhaust pipe disappearing behind it to within the rear of the chassis in order to poke out almost centrally of the rear bumper.

With the tail of the car on the left, there are more electrical leads and plugs going on behind where the rear wheel (and a plastic shield) would be. Ferrari is an odd mix of traditionalist and technology-pushing, so despite electronic "Side Slip-angle Control" and an electronic parking brake and active aero flaps here and there, they still build road cars using aluminium chassis as is in keeping with their history, whereas the likes of McLaren use a carbon fibre central tub. The only exceptions are the "special series cars" such as the Enzo and LaFerrari, although the front/rear subframes and crash structures would likely be metallic on those cars anyway. You can bend metal back into shape, but when carbon fibre fails, it's failed for good.

Here we look upwards to the top of the rear wheel area, with the rear brake in view at the bottom.
In case you've forgotten, the shot of the engine is right back at the top of this page ;-)

Although, to save you scrolling I can post a different one from a finished 488:

Here's a quick and dirty photo of what you see when the floor and rear diffuser are removed. You can see the exhaust pipes exiting through their own little grilles, while the 7-speed twin-clutch gearbox hangs low just ahead of them. To the left of that, you can see the left-side rear suspension lower arm.

Finally, this is a peek up the little piece of aerodynamic trickery on the rear bumper. Air flowing down the roof gets channeled into a central slot just below the FERRARI script on the top side. That air then exits through the moustache-like slot just above the rear number plate, in order to reduce drag. Here we are looking up through the exit. It's difficult to get a good shot of these things but I thought I'd try it anyway!

One last close-up: this is an air outlet next to the left tail light. It would be easy to assume that it's just a heat vent with a carbon fibre surround instead of a grille, but air flows through the large intakes behind the doors and gets split, so some of it feeds the intercoolers and turbos we saw earlier, some of it blows cold air onto the engine and some of it flows straight through and out of here for lower drag. Although of course, heat might also exit here.

There's a better and more visual explanation in an official Ferrari video here:

So there we have it! I hope you learned something and that I didn't unhelpfully misidentify anything. There will be more activity on this blog tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Oh yeah, I totally sat in a 488 Spider. The carbon fibre paddles felt a bit plastic-y, so I'd stick with metal ones...

Follow SmallBlog V8 on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ !