'Sensual but also logical': Ferrari's Flavio Manzoni opines on design at London exhibit

Ferrari design boss Flavio Manzoni was in London this week for the opening of a five-month exhibition on the famous Italian brand, part of its 70th-anniversary celebrations, at the world-famous Design Museum. So Autoblog jumped at the chance to ask the man behind the La Ferrari, FXX, 488 GTB and more about his design approach and inspirations, and also what he thinks about designing a Ferrari SUV, or even an EV.

Manzoni, 52, is pleasingly Italian in manner and accented English. Passionate and forthright, he has strong views on what makes good design in general and for Ferrari in particular. Having increased the importance of the brand’s Styling Centre considerably since becoming head of design in 2010, the now 80-strong team increasingly creates new vehicles in-house (as opposed to using former independent design company Pininfarina). The first project Manzoni fully oversaw within Ferrari was the La Ferrari. He’s a firm believer in form following function, “but not in a German way,” he says with a smile, citing the side of the 488 GTB, which is shaped by the need to divert air in a certain way around the car and also to look fantastic. As he declares: “You’d never find lines on a Ferrari just for decoration. The scoop on the 488 GTB is sensual but also logical.”

As another example, he says that his “latest baby,” the track-focused FXX K Evo, took a different path from the very engineering-focused Enzo of 2002, designed well before he joined the company. “We worked for eight months with the engineers on the FXX, to keep the functionality and make it beautiful.”

In Manzoni’s job, it would be impossible not to respect Ferrari’s incredible back catalog — he owns a Gandini-designed Ferrari 208 GT4, “still very beautiful, but iconic as well” — but he’s no slave to the past. “Déjà vu is something we don’t like,” he says with a slightly scolding look. “We don’t agree with nostalgia or the need to create a family feeling throughout our range. But a Ferrari must be recognizable without the badge. There are different ways to do this — not just in details like the headlamps, but sometimes in how you treat the surfaces. It’s tricky to explain, but it’s a feeling.”

He’s also not keen on following industry trends and has historically spoken out against luxury SUVs. “Every time we work on a new Ferrari, we try to improve on every aspect — including the center of gravity — so an SUV is not a Ferrari,” he stated as recently as 2015. “I don’t understand why so many other brands are doing them. In my opinion it shows a lack of courage.”

But forward-wind just two years, and parent-company CEO Sergio Marchionne has made several pronouncements relating to a potential Ferrari crossover or SUV plan. How does Manzoni feel about that? “I cannot answer, but one thing is clear: Ferrari is not a follower. There have been so many declarations from Sergio Marchionne and others. I cannot add anything more to what they have already said, but Ferrari won’t follow a trend.”

Given the way the world is changing, and as an admirer of those who think, imagine (and draw) differently — from Syd Mead to Le Corbusier — Manzoni must have considered an all-electric Ferrari, though? What does he think of the recent futuristic Lamborghini/MIT Terzo Millennio electric concept?

“I have a lot of respect for our competitor brands, but we are never influenced by them,” he says. “We work under our own vision and especially the guidance of Sergio Marchionne, who is giving us a big opportunity to reshape Ferrari in an extraordinary way. Of course I cannot say how, but we are living in a special moment of creativity, and when there is a change, there is also a peak in creative solutions.”

“Ferrari: Under the Skin” is on display at London’s Design Museum until April 15, 2018. It features $185 million worth of classic and new Ferrari road and racing cars — from the 1947 125 S to the latest La Ferrari Aperta, vintage photos and letters from founder Enzo Ferrari’s extraordinary life, plus an array of original F1 Ferrari racing helmets, including the classic 1960s bubble visor of American Phil Hill, and much more amazing memorabilia. It’s well worth a visit if you’re in London. See designmuseum.org/exhibitions/ferrari-under-the-skin.

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