JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA, Spain — A new automatic-transmission Ferrari, billed by the fabled Italian team as the race car of the future, is getting its track debut this week as Grand Prix teams prepare for the upcoming season.
The Ferrari 640, the first Formula 1 car in which the driver will not have to use a clutch pedal to change gears, is the vehicle on which the team is pinning its hopes of closing the competitive gap with 1988 champion McLaren.
Ferrari driver Gerhard Berger sped the new car, which uses an electro-hydraulic system in its automatic transmission, around the Jerez track in southern Spain in its most extensive test today.
"The car feels very comfortable. It reacts well," said Berger, the only non-McLaren driver to win a race last year. "We still have a lot of problems with it, basic electronic problems, but it's a good thing for the future."
Berger, who gave the cherry-red 640 its first test run on Monday, said it is the model for future race cars and predicted other manufacturers will switch to automatic transmissions within the next two years.
Gordon Kimball, engineering manager for Ferrari, said designers started work on the automatic transmission in 1987.