Ferrari Hypercar measuring up to the hype

JEP/Motorsport Images

Ferrari Hypercar measuring up to the hype

Le Mans/WEC

Ferrari Hypercar measuring up to the hype


While the slew of new Hypercar machinery is all attracting its fair share of attention ahead of the FIA WEC season opener tomorrow, there is understandably an especially significant buzz around the AF Corse Ferrari 499Ps from the fans in the paddock.

Returning to the top of sports car racing after 50 years away, Ferrari brings a full-factory LMH prototype, built from the ground up, to the FIA WEC, with the aim of winning the centenary Le Mans 24 Hours overall and a world championship. The team it has assembled in the garage, on the pit wall and in the cockpit on paper looks capable of delivering historic results. But as we know, races aren’t won or lost on paper, and the pressure is on.

To this point, Ferrari’s twin-turbo V6-powered hybrid 499Ps have gradually improved on outright pace in Florida and appear to be in the ballpark of mounting a challenge to Toyota’s all-conquering GR010 HYBRIDs that are the clear benchmark for all the newcomers to Hypercar this season.

James Calado tells RACER the 499P has really impressed him during testing in the off-season and it’s improving all the time. During the track time at the Sebring Prologue and in practice, the lap times have come down and the car has stayed reliable, too. This combination has allowed the team to maximize the available track time. Only the fallout from Calado’s off at Turn 1 on Sunday has cost the team laps.

For this new venture, Ferrari made the choice to promote from within with experienced WEC GTE talent. Calado, Antonio Fuoco, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Miguel Molina moved straight to Hypercar from GTE Pro last year and form the foundation for the team’s stable.

Calado says the experience he and his teammates have competing in the WEC’s GTE classes with AF Corse is translatable, as the 499P drives more like a GT car than a high-powered, high-downforce LMP1 prototype from years gone by.

“It doesn’t take a long to adapt to the 499P with its hybrid system,” he explained. “It deploys for us at 190kph (118mph), it’s smooth and mainly comes into play in a straight line, and it’s also automatic. In terms of corners, you only feel it kick in at Turn 1 and the exit of 17 here at Sebring. It’s handy because it gives you support at the rear.

“The driving compared to GT is super similar, it’s just more complex. There’s a lot more to think about, lots of changes that need to be made on the wheel every lap. It’s just about getting the right changes and learn how to make those adjustments automatically so you don’t need to keep looking down at the wheel. But we’ve done so many laps we’re all up to speed. It’s not a fighter jet.”

The team behind the scenes are also familiar faces to Calado and his teammates. The vast majority of the staff working on this program have been cherry-picked from the AF Corse GTE Pro effort, the road car side of Ferrari, and the F1 program, with vital knowledge of working on hybrid-powered race cars. There are very few new hires.

“There’s a lot of people I am familiar with, partly because I’ve been part of Ferrari for nine years,” he said. “There are lots of people from across Ferrari, even from F1, the collaboration is great. We needed a bigger team because the cars are more complex, so it’s not just the GTE Pro staff. It’s a good package of guys and the team are working super hard.”

The Ferrari 499P has been impressively reliable thus far, but race readiness is an unknown quantity. JEP/Motorsport Images

What are the expectations at this early stage though? The car completed more than 12,000 miles in testing before the season and managed 337 laps of Sebring in the Prologue. But it still hasn’t been pushed to its limits in a race.

In an ideal world, Ferarri would find a way to get a car on the podium tomorrow, but it is under no illusions that the competition will be hot and suffering from mechanical woes is a real possibility.

“We are here to learn,” Calado noted. “We don’t have the highest expectations yet. We need to experience what this is all about and try to score points, that’s the ultimate goal. If we can finish the race, that will be an achievement in itself.

“Overall I feel privileged. It was a relief to get this drive, I had high hopes, all of us developed the car, got a lot of laps, but it was down to Ferrari to make the decision on the lineup. It’s an exciting time and an exciting project. This is just the start.”