The Ferrari 812 Competizione belongs to the same bloodline as the F12 tdf (and the 599 GTO before it), but it isn't supposed to be a carbon copy of it. Even Ferrari's test drivers admit the tdf was a tricky car at the limit - the Competizione, they say, should be every bit as thrilling, but nothing like as intimidating. The firm will build 999 examples, plus another 599 Competizione A targa variants, and all are sold out. Prices start at around £430,000.
Nobody on the Maranello payroll will ever admit it, but there is a suggestion the F12 runout special, unveiled in 2016, may have crossed a line. Or maybe it is pure coincidence so much work has been done to make the 812 Competizione faster both in a straight line and around a lap, but also more approachable for more people. It should be the sort of the car that fills you with confidence rather than depleting it at every turn.
What Ferrari wasn't ever going to do was turn down the volume, throttle back the V12 and bring power outputs back to Earth. In fact, this is the most powerful engine Ferrari has ever fitted to a road car, its 830hp besting even the LaFerrari hypercar's 789hp (though not the 963hp produced by its full hybrid powertrain). It revs harder than ever too, peak power arriving at 9,250rpm and the redline not until 9,500.
Titanium con-rods, new pistons, a lighter crankshaft and a very low-friction diamond-like carbon coating for the piston pins, cams and the new steel sliding finger followers (which sit between the cams and valve stems) help the 6.5-litre V12 spin harder than ever. The intake, fuel injection and exhaust systems have been reworked and even the oil is less viscous. Compared to the 812 Superfast, shift speeds have been cut by five per cent (the gearbox is still a seven-speed dual-clutch).
The weight saving compared to the Superfast is only 38kg, what excess fat there was being trimmed from the powertrain, bodyshell and both bumpers, which are now carbon fibre. In terms of the aero package and the chassis, however, there are more significant gains. The new blade across the bonnet and huge vents aft of the front wheels evacuate heat away from the brakes and engine bay, while three claw marks behind the rear wheels divert air to a series of dive planes hidden within the bodywork.
There's a bigger rear diffuser, a more prominent spoiler and a body-coloured panel housing six vortex generators where the rear screen should be. These themselves don't produce downforce, but the vortices they generate do make the spoiler more effective (there's a rear-facing camera and a digital display where you'd expect to find a rear-view mirror so you can see the car you've just roasted, or your own plumes of tyre smoke).
The key, say Ferrari's designers and aerodynamicists, was to increase downforce without resorting to unsightly fixed aero devices like a Porsche 911 GT3 RS-style rear wing, though they don't disclose the exact increase in downforce over the Superfast.
Meanwhile, the independent rear-wheel steering system is a world first. Rear steer is great for increasing stability at speed, but these systems have always been hindered to some degree by the back wheels slavishly doing the same thing, says Ferrari. By pivoting the rear wheels independently of one another, improvements can be made to response times, precision and even traction and stability (under heavy braking, for instance, both rear wheels can toe-in slightly to make the back of the car track straight and true).
The entire point of this system is to persuade the rear to follow the front more faithfully. It's simple enough to get the nose to turn-in more immediately - wider, grippier tyres and some extra downforce over the front axle will do that - but if the tail can't follow, the car will be unmanageable. It's one of the reasons why the 812 Competizione will tear around Fiorano in 1min 20secs, a full second faster than the F12 tdf and within three tenths of the LaFerrari.
I didn't get to try the car on the road and my time on track at Fiorano was limited to two blocks of five laps, the first stint no more than a warm-up and familiarisation session. That means every driving impression that follows was gleaned in just a handful of laps - no more than eight miles in total and just a few minutes at the wheel. Maybe it's brazen, therefore, to declare this the best Ferrari I've ever driven, but I'm minded to do exactly that. It's sensational.
Where to begin? The engine is like a feral beast, howling beneath the bonnet and hauling the car along so forcefully you swear it's trying to escape. The linear, rising power delivery and that explosive crescendo right at the top end embody everything we love about about big, naturally aspirated engines. No turbocharged lump will ever stir you like this. It doesn't sing quite the rousing, nape-prickling song you expect of a V12 that spins to 9500rpm, though - it exhales through a gasoline particulate filter that undoubtedly gags the exhaust note a little. But the gearbox is flawless, and the brakes are mighty, never showing any sign of fade even on this circuit with its handful of big braking zones. Meanwhile the steering is beautifully measured, allowing you to judge your inputs and position the car with real precision.
Despite all that, I think it's the chassis that really stands out. It's a masterpiece. You look at the endless bonnet and imagine that making it tuck into a bend must be like turning an oil tanker, but with the engine positioned well behind the front axle line (and, frankly, with so much mechanical grip from the cut-slick Michelin Cup 2 R tyres, at least once they're warm) the Competizione actually dives for an apex like a lightweight mid-engined supercar.
The long right-hander that tightens on you before feeding into the long left-hander near the start of the lap are seemingly designed to tease understeer out of a car. I've driven other Ferraris through here that have pushed on slightly, but the Competizione is absolutely nailed to its line with apparently infinite grip. It simply never wants to push.
There is some body roll here, just enough that you feel exactly how hard the front and rear axles are digging into the asphalt. The really clever bit, though - and this may be this car's finest achievement - is just how insistently the rear axle follows the front. The car is rock-solid and impeccably balanced, never for a moment feeling like it might be about to get away from you. It means you commit harder and harder with every lap, your confidence soaring.
I felt like I was guiding a bobsled down the Cresta run, as though the two axles were in such perfect harmony that the rear could only follow the front, and there was only one line the car could possibly take. If enough Competiziones continue to lap Fiorano for the next few months, they'll wear a groove into its surface.
I never imagined a front-engined, rear-wheel drive car with so much power could be this approachable. Once you're into a rhythm it isn't the least bit intimidating, because it's always on your side. And yet it's exhilarating and intoxicating in a way only the best road cars are. Ferrari and other manufacturers of its ilk are building more sophisticated supercars than this at the moment, but judged by the only two metrics that actually matter - how technically capable a car is and how that car makes you feel - none reaches quite as high as the 812 Competizione.
SPECIFICATION | 2021 FERRARI 812 COMPETIZIONE
Engine: 6496cc V12
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch transmission
Power (hp): 830@9,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 510@7,000rpm
0-62mph: 2.9 secs
Top speed: 211mph
Weight: 1.487kg (dry weight)
Price: £430,000 approx
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