Flavio Manzoni is passionate: not only about his work, but also about classical music (he is an accomplished pianist) and futuristic, science fiction-inspired design. One of his pet projects was a study for a Ferrari-inspired spaceship, a creative exercise for his team in looking to the future for inspiration. While maintaining a huge respect for Ferrari’s heritage, he does not subscribe to the retro trend, but instead designs to create some of Ferrari’s future classics. Design Father met with him on the Mugello circuit, where he told us why it’s not enough for him to simply create something beautiful, but to achieve a true union of technology and aesthetics.
Let’s start at the very beginning, from you at a very young age.
Did a young Flavio imagine that cars in 2015 or 2000 would be like they are now, or did he imagine that cars would be totally different?
When I was a young boy it was certainly my dream to design cars, but I could never have imagined that the dream would become a reality. I was very lucky! But I think when I was young I expected to see flying cars by 2000.
If you look on the internet, there is a design for a Ferrari spaceship. That spaceship is a kind of provocation to look to the future. We have to design cars and products that reflect progress and evolution. This is also a reflection of our trust regarding the future, because when I was young there was this strong trust in that the future was something to look forward to.
Instead, in recent years, especially in the last 20 years, the retro design trend has become overused. Every company was making retro products. For me this was very bad because I wanted to design the future. And now I have this opportunity, together with the Ferrari Styling Center, because we always try to set a new standard, to raise the bar, with a very iconic and modern language.
And you’ve done it in an excellent way, with the introduction of LaFerrari, which, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful supercars there is. Earlier when presenting LaFerrari, you spoke about your sources of inspiration, for example how the engine was left visible because it is the heart of the car; a jewel that you want to showcase.
Can you tell us a little more about the design process behind LaFerrari?
LaFerrari represents the pinnacle of Ferrari production cars. It is an extremely fascinating project because it represents the highest level of technological transfer from Formula 1 to the road. This is a project that gathers all of the most important innovations developed in recent years at Ferrari. All the state-of-the-art technology is in there.
Giving form to a project like this is quite a difficult task, because although the idea that I had in mind when we started the project was quite clear, it wasn’t clear how we could fit all the requirements, all the technical complexity of the project, which is more than anybody can imagine. This is the most difficult job for my team and myself: to find the form which will be the perfect fit, matching 100 percent of the project.
And we must never forget the importance of intuition, the importance of the artistic side as well: we always try to put an artistic value on the form because it must be a dynamic sculpture. It must be extraordinary not only in terms of performance, but also extraordinary in terms of beauty.
I recall you saying that the voids are as important as the volumes…
This is a quote from the architect Oscar Niemeyer. It is one of the claims of the project. It is why we started designing by modelling the airflow, because if we know what the behavior of the air should be, then we can imagine the form.
That leads the obvious question about aerodynamics and safety considerations: do they limit the design process or do they guide the design process to the next level, driving you to innovate?
The constraints are always a huge obstacle, but it depends on how you face them. If you think of them as a problem, then the end result will be compromised. But if you think, “OK, this is something that forces us to do something different”, then it becomes a huge opportunity to say something new, to transform and to evolve the design of the car.
You came into Ferrari, a brand known for its history, its heritage – Enzo’s heritage – and its timeless design. How important is that to you?
Do you try to incorporate something timeless into your designs to make them more collectable in the future? Can you tell us a little bit about the challenges of creating timeless design?
Sometimes it’s not so easy to explain why we feel that a particular design solution is the correct one. Normally I follow this principle: if the form follows the function, and our work is innovative, then we are safe.
The problem is when you try to make something stylish, when you have a preconceived idea of the form, then it becomes an ornamental treatment. This is never timeless. When instead there is a clear connection, a clear match between the form and the substance, then it is different and it can be timeless.
What I always say to the team when we work on a car, on a new Ferrari, is, “Please, guys, think about how this car will be perceived in the next fifty years.”. This is something that we have to imagine: how the car will be seen in fifty years.
How did you and Hublot approach the challenge of translating the unique design of LaFerrari into a watch?
When we first started working to interpret the form of the watch some links were instantly very clear: there is a very clear connection between the electric engine of LaFerrari and the watch’s tourbillion, so – as with the car – we felt it was most appropriate that we do not cover the technical components, but instead to use the technological beauty of them to enhance the design by keeping them completely visible.
We also took cues from the sensual shape of the bodywork, such as the curve of the glass dome which mirrors the shape of the car’s canopy, so in the end we had a very special watch inspired by a very special car.
Is there anything else you would like to design in the future except cars?
I am a very eclectic designer so there are many things that I would love to design.
I love watches and I think this is why the relationship with Hublot came together so well. But we also work for the overall brand. With brand extensions, we have opportunities to design other products. Our wish is to try to transfer our vision, and our way of interpreting the form of the car, to other products.
The important lesson at Ferrari is that form follows function, however not in the German way, but always with a very creative and artistic approach. When you achieve this, you are being honest, and you’re able to express something new.
Is there anything that you always carry with you?
My love for harmony. It is something that I cannot fully explain, but I always follow my instinct in evaluating the harmony of an object day by day.
I would also say my Sardinian soul. I was born in Sardinia and lived there until I was 18.
And the final question: suppose you were hosting a dinner party for four people and you could invite anyone, living or dead. Who would you invite?
Beautiful question! Albert Einstein, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Frank Lloyd – Wright, and Enzo Ferrari.