Saturday 6 February 2021 9:09 am

The Ferrari F8 Spider unleashes your inner Formula 1 driver

Ferrari’s 812 Superfast was hands-down my most exciting and memorable drive of 2020. Yet this ferocious 800hp supercar also felt intimidating and, at times, unnerving: a cavallino rampante only a racing driver could truly tame.

After three head-spinning days I handed it back, grateful for the experience, but quietly relieved the Ferrari and my driving licence had survived unscathed.

The F8 Spider is very different. While the 812 Superfast is dominated by its maniacal V12, this car is defined by its chassis. Its brilliant balance – backed up by very clever stability systems – makes even a driver of modest talents (ahem) feel like a pro.

This time, parting wasn’t such sweet sorrow; Ferrari’s press officer practically had to wrestle me for the keys.

Ferrari F8 Spider

Meet the al fresco version of the F8 Tributo, then – Maranello’s staple mid-engined supercar and adversary for the Lamborghini Huracan Evo and McLaren 720S.

Its twin-turbo 3.9-litre V8 is mated to a dual-clutch paddle-shift gearbox and makes 720hp at a soaring 8,000rpm. Standstill to 62mph takes 2.9 seconds and top speed is 212mph. Hold a button and the two-piece roof rises, flips and folds in 14 seconds, at speeds of up to 28mph.

Even on a dreary industrial estate in Slough, nondescript home of David Brent and Ferrari UK, the F8 Spider – in eye-popping Giallo Modena yellow – looks stone-cold sensational. Its bonnet plunges dramatically beneath the front bumper to create an ‘S-Duct’, a downforce detail inherited from the 488 Pista, while its sides sweep upwards around hungry intakes towards retro, speedster-style rear humps. 

Just one minor disappointment: the F8 Tributo offers a glimpse of V8 through its slatted Lexan rear window, but the Spider’s engine remains hidden from view.

Ferrari F8 Spider

Drop down into the carbon fibre racing seat (a £5,184 option) and your eyes lock onto a central rev counter with inset gear readout: large and also very yellow. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is cluttered with controls, including an F1-style manettino dial, but thankfully they’re clickable switches, not the fiddly touchpads of the new Ferrari Roma.

My car also had the passenger-side display (£2,592), which informs your significant other how fast you are both travelling. It’s probably best they don’t know.

This ‘F154’ V8 has won the International Engine of the Year award four times in a row, and it’s easy to understand why. There’s zero turbo lag to speak of, just relentless speed, split-second upshifts and a wall of tractable torque (568lb ft from 3,250rpm) that can light up the rear Pirellis at will.

Pull the pin and you barely have time to blink. Ferrari’s latest SF90 hypercar adds three electric motors to the same engine for 1,000hp in total, but seriously… you’ll never want for more. 

Ferrari F8 Spider

I do wish it sounded more special, though. Prod the red start button and the F8 barks into life, then settles to a boisterous and breathy idle, not unlike a modified car with an oversized exhaust.

As the revs rise, the whoosh of forced induction and blare of the Inconel tailpipes coalesce into something more cultured, but it never reaches the operatic heights of, say, the Huracan’s naturally aspirated V10. Driving roof-down in unmuffled surround-sound only accentuates what, for me, is the Ferrari’s only significant shortcoming. 

Still, this isn’t a ‘sensory overload’ sort of supercar. It’s a machine you steer with your fingertips and the ball of your right foot, rich in texture and tactility. Body control is zen-like, even over pothole-strewn British back roads, the carbon-ceramic brakes are mighty and its chassis feels endlessly exploitable.

In some cars of this calibre, the thought of intentionally smudging the back tyres sideways brings on a cold sweat, but the Ferrari is like a Mazda MX-5 with a 720hp heart transplant. I actually preferred driving it with the roof up.

Ferrari F8 Spider

Much of the F8’s élan is unlocked via the manettino, which offers drive modes from Wet to Race (plus ESC Off, if your brave pants are freshly laundered). Select Race and the Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer subtly applies the brakes to trim your line through corners, while another piece of software called Side Slip Angle Control 6.1 is ever-ready if you feel the urge for lurid, smoky drifts (on a racetrack, please people, not around Hyde Park Corner). Making this electronic witchcraft feel organic and accessible is something that no carmaker does better.

The F8 Spider costs £225,897, although the price of my car had swollen to £282,225 with options (titanium wheel bolts for £960, anyone?). As you’ve probably guessed, I’d save myself £20,000 and have the Tributo coupe.

Either way, you get a four-year warranty and industry-leading seven-year servicing package – useful, as this is a supercar so polished, so rewarding, that I never wanted to stop driving it. Even if Ferrari’s PR man had other ideas.

Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research 

PRICE: £225,897

0-62MPH: 2.9sec 

TOP SPEED: 212mph

CO2 G/KM: 296