Flavio Manzoni graduated in architecture in Firenze. He is the son of an architect and began free hand drawing while still a child, thanks to instruction from his father. Curiously enough, among some of his early drawings there are studies of horses, which seems a premonition of things to come. It becomes clear that design is his amniotic liquid, his natural habitat. Unlike many car designers he is not fascinated just by cars. Perhaps because he is an architect he is interested in the design process, in its entirety. There are models in his studio of “generative design” created by students he has met in design schools, and iconic objects, traces of the work of other architects and designers, the result of real meetings and selected affinities. The creation of a style centre within Ferrari, equipped with the best in technology and supported by the expertise of a team of modellers and designers from all over the world, and the design of the multipleaward winning latest Ferraris is down to him. But let’s start at the beginning
What has been your career path and how did you come to lead the Ferrari design team? My architectural studies in Firenze, with teachers including Remo Buti (the teacher also of Giovannoni and Venturini, among the founders of the Bolidista movement), Roberto Segoni and J.K. Koenig, allowed me to cultivate my passion for all forms of art, from painting to sculpture, and my father’s profession meant that I was able to work with him on several residential projects in Sardinia. In 1993, following my degree with the great Segoni, I decided to take the “car design” route, with a job at the Centro Stile Lancia. I had to overcome considerable prejudice; the profession of car designer was considered by some to be a secondary specialization within the University environment where I was.
Your successive stages saw you in Seat in 1999 then as director of design in Lancia in 2001, in Fiat in 2004 ( during the project 500 development years), in Volkswagen in 2006: a long process of professional development… I’ve always been driven by a profound curiosity with regard to other professional, human and cultural worlds. Each experience has been of fundamental importance; I have been able to discover different design philosophies and each time was an opportunity to deliberately put myself to the test through facing increasing challenges. This has always been one of my forms of discipline, dealing with new challenges and new objectives.
Since 2010 at Ferrari, you have had the job of creating an internal design development centre from scratch, as well as managing the creation of new models: a fantastic adventure... This decision meant that Ferrari was able to integrate aspects of design and formal research in order to better manage the expression of the brand’s own contents and reinforce its own identity. We’ve introduced physical modelling techniques (like clay) in addition to virtual ones and called on the best professionals and model makers to work in partnership in order to answer the needs of a company which is always looking for the highest levels of innovation. Working as a team and developing its expertise and skills are Ferrari’s working objectives, and this is achieved through demanding constant effort from everyone. At Ferrari everything goes fast: the cars, but also the staff and their work. Speed is a working method applied to everything.
Have you ever felt intimidated by the Ferrari history and image? The history of Ferrari is a continuous spur, it drives and pushes us all on in the search for excellence! If anything, it is the fact of constantly working at a very high level, the need to continually raise the car’s technical and aesthetic standards that brings about a certain psychological overload. It is a huge responsibility and needs to be lived with both determination and humility at the same time.
Curiously, here in Ferrari one doesn’t talk about “Style Centre” so much as “Design Centre”; does this subtle difference indicate your personal approach? Certainly design makes the difference, intended in the sense of “design culture”; often one talks about architecture, composition and finally of metalanguage. At Ferrari we have the privilege of designing every new car from scratch. We are not bound by having to use a platform that conditions the formulation of the following model and which reduces the bodywork to a set of clothes to be adapted to the frame, working in favour of superficial styling. Here we start with a challenge, from the architecture of the car, integrating technical and aerodynamic content with an aesthetic, rigorous and artistic vision all at the same time. A Ferrari isn’t a car, it’s a dynamic sculpture; it has to work on the road at the highest performance levels but it should also be possible to perceive through its form the sculpted qualities of a work of art. It’s a difficult task, to reach a magic balance that has to satisfy every requirement: technical innovation, the pleasure of driving and aesthetic beauty. To do that, style isn’t enough, you need design.
What level of freedom of expression do safety and aerodynamic rules allow you? Modelling air flow linked to aerodynamics means that you appraise unusual solutions. As with all technical constraints, you have to understand aerodynamics. It’s only through knowing the constraints, internalizing them, that you turn them into significant design opportunities. Even the concept of safety, which demands a minimum distance between the mechanical organs and the point of impact, or which requires a level of flexibility in the bonnet surface can be resolved without sacrificing a formal balance. Constraints always force you to think long and hard and then develop an instinct for sudden flashes of inspiration, those that solve the technical problem and offer a creative solution. Creativity isn’t always evident through form, but above all through the imaginative capacity to invent new technical solutions that are also first class from a formal point of view. These are what make a product innovative and “iconic” at the same time.
Formula 1 and GT; how do they interact? There is a tremendous exchange of information from one sector to the other; the testing of materials and technological solutions on the one hand, while on the other hand one might point out increasing attention by Formula 1 towards the aesthetic aspects, which allowed the Ferrari GTs to be awarded for their overall qualities. Here I’m referring to the Compasso d’Oro for the F12 and the very recent Red Dot to LaFerrari, to the California and (Best of the Best) to the FXXK, the track version of the LaFerrari.
Effectively they are objects of desire, an extreme obvious beauty, what about performance? Design comes from lots of brainstorming and constant selections, from teamwork and accurate research in the right area, and an intrinsic overall coherency. This level of beauty takes tremendous dedication; every detail has to pass tests and thousands of trials in order to reach its final state, the essential one. From the technical point of view, the most recent “La Ferrari” is the first hybrid Ferrari in history, it has a retractable spoiler, adaptive surface features and with an output of 963 hp it can reach a speed of 100 km/h in less than 3 seconds, 200 km/h in less than 7 seconds and 300 km/h in 15 seconds.
That’s real speed! In addition to the personal successes achieved, are you aware of the role that Ferrari, and therefore your work, has in promoting Italy in the rest of the world? Ferrari is a brand that has always demonstrated the purely Italian capacity to create superlative products. This happens when you have a deep passion, a constant desire to anticipate the natural evolution of things and the spirit of self-denial that is an essential part of such a commitment. It’s a reason for Italian pride and a virtuous example to follow.