Raffaele de Simone has driven and tested every road-going Ferrari that Maranello has produced for more than a decade... at least. I sat down with Ferrari’s chief development driver to learn more about his craft.
Words: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
As the saying goes, “Everyone can drive a fast car, but few can drive a car fast.”
There is also a difference between a gifted and experienced driver (someone who has the skills to pilot a car to within an inch of its limits) and a development driver. The latter has spent a number of years with a specific car, knows every little nuance, and can drive it beyond its limits.
I experienced a brief taste of this kind of talent when the charismatic De Simone chauffeured me around the famous Pista di Fiorano test track. After an exploratory lap, the Italian picked up speed and made the car’s rear axle pendulate through the corners at will. As he twirled the steering wheel with his fingertips, chatting away nonchalantly, I marvelled how at ease he was with having close to 600 kW at his beck and call. A driver of this calibre is made of special stuff, indeed!
How did you end up in your current position?
I started with the company (Fiat) in 2003, and from 2005 I worked for Ferrari exclusively. At first I was a racing driver, but then I stopped competing to focus 100 percent of my efforts on the development of road cars.
I’ve been taught by great teachers throughout the years. One example is Dario Benuzzi (who was Ferrari’s chief test driver for a number of decades). I also had to learn how to develop the all-wheel-drive system of the FF. And I gained insights from Michael Schumacher after his first retirement from Formula 1.
These master teachers allowed me to learn more while I remained in the employ of Ferrari and finished studying as a mechanical engineer. The only way to learn more is to stay in Maranello; it made me realize why we’re a special company.
From an outsider’s point of view, it looks like such an enjoyable occupation. What are the highlights for you?
To recognize and develop the potential in something you are working on - in this case, one of the world’s best supercars - or, as we call it, the soul of the car. At that moment, I appreciate my position most. I feel honoured to be part of the car’s gestation and witness the processes it goes through to become the best it can be.
How involved have you been with the testing of F1 and XX Programme cars?
I never assisted with the development of Formula 1 cars, because that department is separate to ours. However, Ferrari used to test its F1 cars extensively here at Fiorano until 2008, when the FIA set strict limits to in-season testing.
I help with the development of Challenge and XX cars. Believe me, those cars are incredible, because you explore ideas and concepts with the machines that really test their limits, and there are no regulations or limitations to take into account. However, a car like the 812 Superfast is more challenging to develop as it needs to perform equally well on the racetrack and the road.
The XX Programme is still used to acquire data, which is subsequently analysed by the factory. We also learn more about the interactions between the drivers and the cars. That helps us to develop the upcoming products for the next ten years.
It would be best to keep the driver the primary focus in the development of future cars. We can’t continue making cars progressively faster and more powerful, while conforming to emission rules and regulations, and not keep the driver in mind. The car and the driver need to work together for the best results.
You have been with Ferrari for numerous years and have driven a plethora of production and race cars. If you could choose three Ferraris to have in your personal garage, which ones would they be?
These cars would obviously be for my personal tastes. I’m now the father of a young boy, so I will definitely opt for a GTC4Lusso, with the V12 engine. I can also use the all-wheel-drive system as I like to go skiing. Then a mid-engined Spider and, finally, a 2005 Ferrari F1 race car. Those three cars would make me very happy!
Have a look below at Raffaele on the limit behind the wheel of 458 Speciale.