The Ferrari Public Relations machine is almost as potent as the cars they create.
By Thomas O'Harte.
The Grand Tour has officially hit the air and with it, a phenomenal first episode featuring a showdown between the Porsche 918, the McLaren P1 and the Ferrari LaFerrari. In the final season of Top Gear Jeremy Clarkson made it repeatedly clear that Ferrari was holding out on viewers by not allowing their latest hypercar to do war with the Porsche and the McLaren. The fact that Ferrari was holding out was a savage disappointment to those who keenly follow the motoring industry but more importantly it seemed a bizarre admission on the part of Ferrari that they didn’t have faith in the capability of their own car. There are only so many excuses you can make about track conditions before you just look cowardly.
It’s a credit to the team at Amazon that they finally twisted enough arms to make the comparison a reality, especially considering that Ferrari has a long history of pulling this stunt. It first came to light in 2011 when Evo journalist Chris Harris lit a bomb under the whole thing by penning a blistering expose into the militant Ferrari PR department. Harris revealed a tawdry list of conditions including that journalists specify which outlet they represent and on what precise roads they were planning to drive. Maranello has a history of banning journalists who write consistently negative reviews or drive non-press approved cars. Rumour has it that Ferrari will even bully private owners who consider lending their car to a journalist (it will come as no surprise that Harris was barred from driving any future Ferrari as a result of his article).
Ferrari engineers will tune cars based on where they are being tested, going to such lengths that Harris reports an instance with a 458 Scuderia where Ferrari sent two different cars: one for straight lines and one for corners. There was also the case of a 360 Modena’s ‘standard’ tyres that were so grippy they literally stuck to a dyno. This fascination with micromanaging how the press perceive and experience a Ferrari is markedly different from most other manufacturers who just toss you the keys and implore you not to plough it into a tree. Or a barricade. Or a wall of ice.
As a result of all this the Ferrari you read about in a magazine or on a website is not the same car on the showroom floor. Discrepancies between factory-tuned and showroom models are apparently par for the course nowadays (Volkswagen, anyone?) but the extent to which Ferrari exerts a vice-like grip on how its cars are reviewed elevates this crap to another level entirely. When your Ferrari fails to break the land-speed record but instead gets whooped by an Audi RS6 at the traffic lights it’s understandable why owners and forum-junkies get upset.
The most disappointing aspect to all this is that Ferrari apparently hasn’t learned much since that original expose hit in 2011. While this PR obsession is not a legal breach it is ethically dubious, a practice that both reflects poorly on the brand and detracts from the majesty of the cars. Cue Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond skewering James May on The Grand Tour for the fact that Ferrari wouldn’t permit the LaFerrari to be used on Portuguese public roads. Cue all three of the Top Gear hosts repeatedly pillorying Ferrari last year for refusing to let the LaFerrari on a track with the McLaren and the Porsche 918.
This approach to PR belies a certain arrogance that ultimately damages the single most iconic car brand to ever have existed. In the early ‘60s Enzo Ferrari pointedly ridiculed Ferruccio Lamborghini’s complaints about the Ferrari clutch, telling him to go back to his tractor business and leave engineering to the expert. As a result one of the great professional rivalries was born, and unnecessarily so.
Ferrari would do better to leave this arrogance behind. The LaFerrari is one of the single greatest cars ever built, and that sentiment applies to a great many of the cars that that leave the Maranello gates. It’s time that Ferrari stopped trying to rig the game and let their phenomenal vehicles speak for themselves.