Love. Finding it is difficult. And you never see it coming. My heart hadn’t pounded as hard as it used to during my high school years when I was infatuated with my very attractive German teacher, until a recent test drive in Maranello changed that. I certainly wasn’t expecting any of those old feelings to return during the trip, even though I’d be giving the all-new 740bhp F12 Berlinetta — a car with extraordinary performance, unmatched handling and innovative design — the once over.
I’ve always deeply admired and respected Ferrari, but I’ve never been besotted by the fabled carmaker. That said, I’d be very happy if you gave me a 308 GTS — a car I had posters of plastered all over my bedroom wall. Sure, there have been much better and quicker Ferraris since the Eighties, but none have tugged at my heart strings quite like that one did.
I was expecting to be hugely impressed by the F12 — the fastest road-going Fezza to date — and knew I would come away with a huge smile. But what I didn’t count on was to be tearing down those old pictures and artworks of the Magnum PI car and replacing them with ones of the F12 after my little fling.
I’ve never felt so alive as I did out on the sun-drenched Fiorano test circuit. It was exactly at 10:25am on the 27th of August 2012 when I caught sight of the aggressively sculpted F12 and its low, sleek coupé lines with those powerfully sculpted flanks. That was my allocated slot for a few hot laps on the historical track with the stunning Prancing Horse.
Barely 10 seconds later, I was head over heels for the two-seat, mid-front engined road rocket. It was a combination of its ridiculously scary performance figures — 340kph top speed, 690Nm of torque and 0-100kph in 3.1 seconds produced by a naturally aspirated 6.3-litre V12 — and its brutal looks coupled with some truly chic touches such as the Aero Bridge that sealed the deal for me.
The latter, an innovative design that uses the bonnet and fenders to create downforce thanks to an aerodynamic channel on each side, looked absolutely fabulous. It added yet more class and character to the suave, slippery body. Think of it like Megan Fox riding on a set of 20in wheels. You get the picture. It looked hot, as did the Blown Spoiler which connected the rear wheel wells to the mesh vents on either side of its liftback.
Any doubts about this exotic beauty, bathed in Rosso Berlinetta red paint, were dispelled the moment I hit the start button on the fat steering, sparking the massive motor to life. That V12 had the most intoxicating roar I have ever heard. It shook me to the bone and even at idle it put goosebumps on top of my goosebumps. I hadn’t even set off but could feel the blood pumping furiously through my veins.
My hands were clammy and my legs were like jelly. Memories of my old tutor and every other flame since were fading, and fast. You don’t really love someone if you’re able to forget them in 8.5 seconds — precisely the time it takes for this beast to reach 200kph from a standstill. I’ve driven cars with power to burn but the F12 has taken that to another level. Its response was staggering; the engine’s torque battered me like a heavyweight champ pummelling a flyweight on the ropes.
With my foot buried, the magically maniacal 6.3-litre thundering along and the seven-speed F1 dual-clutch tranny shifting gears without a hint of a pause, I finally had an answer to that most difficult of questions while surveying my (very blurry) domain; what’s the best car out there? It’s this. Anyone with the merest of pulses would have struggled not to have fallen in love with it. And when you’re in love, you do the silliest of things.
Like setting the manettino to the most dangerous of modes — ESC off. I did just that, stood on it, and… duly spun off at the first corner in a haze of smoke and the sounds of its custom Michelin Super Sport tyres screeching in pain. The F12 had bitten me, and I loved it all the more for it. Instead of the allocated three laps around Fiorano, I played the old “oh, I lost count” trick and managed to sneak in a fourth hoping for another love bite. It was worth the wrath of the track bosses for I got the brute sideways one last time when exiting a corner at around 130kph and holding a power slide for what seemed like hours. Oh my gosh — what a car!
For one worrying moment, I thought I had broken it upon noticing two gaping holes in the corners of the front bumper. To my relief, it was the Active Brake Cooling system, which opened a pair of flaps to allow air to channel through to the front wheel arches and dissipate the heat generated by the glowing carbon-ceramics caused by lots of hard and very late braking. I might not have come anywhere close to matching the new lap record at Fiorano of 1:23 seconds set by the new Fezza, but boy was it fun trying.
I could have been out there all day and not got tired and part of that was down to the track, built in 1972, and owned by Ferrari of course. Boasting a wide range of corners with diameters between 372 and 14 metres, it was able to simulate corners of many Grand Prix circuits the world over. A superb proving ground for sure. There was no better place to floor it, but the test drive soon took me out on to the rolling Modena hills and on to roads curvier than strings of spaghetti.
I wondered how the rear-wheel drive F12 would cope out here — I mean with all that power, 80 per cent of which is already on tap at 2,500rpm (with a constant surge all the way up to the 8,700rpm limit) and some very twisty turns, it was a recipe for disaster wasn’t it? It wasn’t. If you told me this thing has been built by those in the magic circle, I’d believe it.
Nothing else explains how it can hunt down corners and tackle them with consummate ease without a hint of body roll or the rear end breaking free when you hit the loud pedal. Well, I did flick the manettino to Race, which goes a long way in explaining how I had suddenly become a legendary driver around the amazing Pavullo, Fanano and Renno roads, packed with lush greenery and jaw-dropping scenery.
I guess the new double wishbone suspension at the front and rear multi-link suspension with SCM-E magnetorheological dampers helped too. But the ease with which I was able to lay down the power and remain in total control as I flicked through the gears, turned the wheel left and right with the 200-bar, direct-injection 65 degree V12 revving ferociously at around the 5,000rpm mark, was just mind-boggling.
It didn’t need a whole lot of steering input during cornering (two turns lock to lock) while traction accelerating out of bends was simply phenomenal. Ferrari says it is 30 per cent better around corners than the 599 GTB Fiorano. I’m not about to argue. The 599 was one of the prettiest Ferraris, but this is prettier and much madder. Blistering performance is a given and when you’re done burning rubber, it knows how to behave nicely.
It doesn’t beg to be thrashed all the time like other cars of this ilk, which makes it such a pleasure on two very different levels. It can be driven sedately in town without those cavallino rampante begging to be unleashed, and there’s another surprise — the boot has 300 litres (up to 500 if you drop the bench) of space. This thing is more compact than the 599 (shorter by 47mm, narrower by 20mm and sits 63mm lower to the ground) and weighs 70kg less.
It’s also 19 per cent more aerodynamic and it’s no surprise performance is truly exceptional. With a spaceframe chassis built from 12 different alloys and a host of hot/cold joining technologies including riveting, bonding and welding, the rigid F12 tips the scales at just 1,525kg and has a weight distribution of 54 per cent at the rear and 46 at the front. 250 hours of wind tunnel testing and who knows how many more using computational fluid dynamics have gone into the making of this, the most aerodynamically efficient Ferrari ever.
Downforce has been increased 76 per cent, thanks in part to the massive four-fin diffuser while it has a drag coefficient of 0.299. It may sound like an all-out racecar but don’t be fooled. This is very much a daily driver with a modern leather-clad interior, comfortable seats, great stereo with USB compatibility and an ice-cold AC. Ferrari’s aim with the new car was to take a big leap forward in terms of performance and design and heck, they’ve achieved it.
It betters the previous V12 coupé by a mile and handles with so much ease that even the limp-wristed would have a field day behind the wheel. Then there’s that awesome soundtrack, which via some clever plumbing, feeds the glorious exhaust note into the interior. The harmonics of this thing are just out of this world. The negatives are minuscule; the sat-nav is hidden behind the steering and the blind spots are quite bad. But that’s it. Everything else in this new generation of Ferrari V12s hits the spot.
I may have had a crush on my German teacher back in the day and, sure, many relationships have come and gone. None really hurt much when they ended but waving goodbye to the F12 Berlinetta was sheer agony. I may have even shed a private tear or two. Yes, it’s love. And no, I didn’t see it coming.