Ferrari SF90 Assetto Fiorano 2023 review – does the hybrid supercar make more sense on track?
With time and space, Ferrari’s SF90 finally shows its true colours, but it takes the Assetto Fiorano package and some real dedication to find them.
You need to get your imagination in the right place before attempting any kind of a quick lap in the Ferrari SF90 Assetto Fiorano. Because, to be honest, even just the idea of ‘pushing it’ in this car is a little bit terrifying.
It does have 1000 PS (or 987bhp) after all. I won’t go back over its specification in too much detail here because we’ve already written about it several times previously. But the bits that matter most are as follows: it has one 4-litre V8 engine, two turbochargers, three electric motors and eight forward gears. It also has carbon-ceramic brakes, generates 390kg of downforce and costs half a million pounds as optioned. Oh yes, and it can accelerate from 0 to 124mph (200kph) in the same time it takes a McLaren F1 to do 0-100mph.
So it’s quite fast. But according to our scales it also weighs 1742kg (Ferrari only quotes a dry weight of 1570kg). So it’s heavy as well as vein-detonatingly rapid, which means it also carries a fair amount of inertia around with it. Especially when you are pushing it. The accident you could have in the SF90 could therefore be massive and go on for a very long time indeed if you went off in the wrong place at Anglesey. Correction, if you went off anywhere at Anglesey.
And by ‘pushing it’ I don’t just mean opening it up a bit down the straights and seeing what it can do in the corners, then timing it over a couple of laps against the stopwatch. I mean leaning on it hard enough to get a lap time that the eight-strong brigade of Ferrari engineers and PR people who are here today will be happy with. Given that they’ve turned up with a truck that contains three different types of tyres – including grenade-spec Cup 2 Rs that are good for two laps, and two laps only, they say – it’s obvious they aren’t here to muck about.
More worrying still, they’ve got a simulation time for the SF90 around the Coastal Circuit that’s been established back at the factory on a computer. So they know precisely how fast it should go, assuming the conditions are perfect. And guess what, just for once at Anglesey, they are. The sun is out, the sky is blue, there’s not a cloud to spoil the view and… it’s not so much raining in my heart as pounding with a heady mix of anxiety and adrenaline-fuelled excitement as I climb aboard for my first timed run.
I did some exploratory laps earlier on regular Cup 2s to try to work out what the car can do – and what I can’t. But that was just experimenting with it, to be honest. Seeing how much throttle it can take here, working out if it’s quicker to short-shift in certain places to avoid bonfiring the rear tyres out of certain corners – something it will do readily even in fifth gear if there’s some load in the outside rear tyre. And that’s despite it being four-wheel drive courtesy of the 200-plus horsepower that’s intermittently fed to the front axle via the electric motors whenever the car’s main brain thinks drive is required at the front wheels.
Even just working out how much kerb it can handle on the entry, apex and exits of all the corners takes quite a while to establish, because there are all sorts of variations to play with at Anglesey, some of which the SF deals with very well, some of which it does not. The trouble is the amount of torque it has. On some of the fruitier exit kerbs you need to be careful with the throttle to avoid a ‘yours-mine-yours’ exit technique, whereas on the smoother kerbs you can give it everything in third or fourth gear and, with a bit of luck, it just sticks. The resulting traction and acceleration it can then produce is spectacular.
It also takes patience and yet more laps to suss which engine and chassis modes to use for a fast lap. Not for the juice setting, because you want as much as possible at all times, but rather for the ESP and TC systems. The engineers say to use Qualify mode for the motor and CT-off for the chassis, which means full beans and no traction control but still a small amount of stability control. I’m fairly sure that switching the whole lot off and hanging on tight would be faster, eventually, maybe. But it’s so damn easy to light the rear tyres up in any of the first five gears, it’s actually quite nice to have a small bit of safety net to fall back upon. Even one that has quite big holes in it.
Whatever the quickest mode may be (I go for the factory recommendation in the end) one thing becomes clear during my exploratory laps in the SF90. This is not the same car we drove in Scotland last year for our eCoty contest, in which the Ferrari finished flat last. It feels like a completely different car. Why? Because unlike the one we drove in Scotland, this one has the optional Assetto Fiorano pack fitted which, amongst other things, brings very different Multimatic dampers that aren’t electronically actuated and make the whole car feel far more natural in its responses. It’s also slightly lighter and has more downforce than the eCoty car, plus it’s not raining at Anglesey, when it did some of the time in Scotland.
Anyway, back in the pitlane with the ‘correct’ SF90, and with all the other stuff mostly worked out in my head, I climb back in, heart thumping, eyes on stalks, belts done up tighter than an evo editorial budget, with a shiny new set of Cup 2 Rs fitted. To get these up to the right temperature and pressures, the Ferrari techs ask me to do two slow laps with no aggressive inputs, then to come back in. The SF feels lovely even on the warm-up laps. Back in the pits they then check and drop the pressures a touch, then the main man gives me a thumbs up and says the magic words with a great big smile across his chops. ‘Time to push,’ he says. ‘And to enjoy!’
Even on the out lap the SF90 feels different, with a snap to its steering response that simply wasn’t there on the regular Cup 2s. It also has more grip, everywhere, and more bite from its brakes. The whole car feels primed and ignited in a way that it hasn’t quite up to this point. And on the flying laps it feels absolutely incredible, at which point everything about the SF90 crystallises and makes perfect sense. Its purpose – to simply cover ground as fast and as efficiently as possible – becomes blindingly clear. And I have to admit, I fall in love with it completely at this moment.
There isn’t a huge amount of feel on offer from any of its controls in a traditional sense. The steering is super-light and super-precise, allowing me to put the nose pretty much exactly where I want in any corner. But the joy comes purely from the speed it can carry into and through the turn, and from the severity with which it stops for those corners. Whatever ‘feel’ there is, it’s negligible, but to be honest it doesn’t really matter.
It also generates much more traction and much more grip on the 2 Rs, to a point where I can use one gear higher than I have previously in at least three corners. The brakes also feel immense on these tyres, while the speed and precision of the gearbox allow you to shift gears in a way, and in places, that would be outright impossible with a manual, or even with most other dual-clutch autos.
But it’s through the terrifying ‘is it or isn’t it flat’ kink on the back straight that the SF90 feels most incredible of all with the 2 Rs fitted. And where the inertia it supposedly has just seems to evaporate. Instead, it just hunkers down and feels glued enough to give me the confidence to keep the throttle wide open in sixth, whereas previously I’d been short-shifting to seventh because it felt too wild, and too damn scary, to keep it nailed in the lower gear.
According to the car’s on-board data-logger, it hit 247kph at this point before braking for the left-hander at the top of the hill. That’s 153.4mph. No other car I’ve driven round Anglesey has ever hit 150mph through here as far as I recall. That’s how efficient the SF90 is at covering ground.
In the end, after a couple more runs in which it went a touch quicker still, it did a 1:09.99 lap. And although I almost felt like a bit of a passenger for much of that lap, watching the game unfold in the windscreen, it felt pretty out of this world at the same time. I climbed out oscillating just a touch afterwards, I don’t mind admitting.
It also beat Ferrari’s sim lap by a whisker and set a new production car lap record in the process, one that may not be beaten for a little while. Then again, who knows what they’ll come up with next at Maranello. Either way, for the time being the SF90 Assetto Fiorano rules.