Some cars, more than others, mark a great technological leap forward, drawing liberally from the best possible research and performance lab: Formula 1. This was the case with the Ferrari 355 F1 Berlinetta. The car, unveiled at the 1997 Frankfurt Motor Show, was directly derived from the F355 Berlinetta, a small sedan – introduced in 1994 – driven by an 8-cylinder rear longitudinal engine and marked by a soft and compact line, continuing the tradition that had garnered so much success with the previous 308, 328 and 348 models. However, the technological content of the 355 F1 was vastly more advanced than its predecessors, having been tried and tested in Formula 1.
We only have to consider the aerodynamics, the subject of detailed studies by Pininfarina, which not only determined the style and shape of the aluminium and steel body, but also the design of the flat bottom to achieve a perfect balance of vertical loads. Indeed, the F355 Berlinetta was the first car with a shape that optimised the disposal and control of the air flows in the underbody, ensuring a constant interaction between the vehicle and the ground to the advantage of road holding. The engine itself was the subject of study and transfer of technology from the track, providing the F355 with extremely high performance: 109 hp/litre. Specific power and torque were the result of the adoption of a head with five valves per cylinder and electronic fuel injection.
On top of this already superb base, Ferrari decided to introduce a revolutionary element from Formula 1: a semi-automatic gearbox with steering wheel controls. This technological innovation was developed for single-seaters as early as 1979, thanks to Mauro Forghieri’s intuition, but was only brought to the track in 1989 when Nigel Mansell and his 640 F1 won in Brazil, in its debut season.
Eight years passed from its victorious debut in F1 to its use in a Prancing Horse road car , and the vehicle chosen was an evolution of the F355 Berlinetta that, for this reason, changed its name to 355 F1 Berlinetta. The 355 F1 Berlinetta, unlike the F355, had an F1-type drivetrain management system. This solution, like in single-seaters, used an electro-hydraulic system and sophisticated software. The gearshift control is on the steering wheel with two levers, allowing the driver to change without taking their hands off the wheel.