This was my first trip to Maranello for a while. I had with me a man to taste food for poison and a small security ensemble in case of violence. The programme was briefings, followed by a brief road drive and then some laps of Fiorano. I had less time in the car than the P1.
You already know the basic details of the LaF's technical specification, so let's try and understand it in the context of its closest rival, the P1. There are two key differences between the two - the Ferrari uses a naturally aspirated V12, where the McLaren has a twin turbo V8, and the LaF has regenerative braking, whereas the P1's middle pedal does braking and nothing more.
The extra 163hp comes from an electric motor powered by a high voltage battery pack located as low as possible in the chassis and is, in effect, part of the chassis because it's housed in a carbon frame that is a stressed part of the tub. The total weight penalty for the hybrid system is 146kg. The tub itself is 20 per cent lighter than an Enzo's and 27 per cent stiffer in terms of torsional stiffness; 22 per cent in bending. The centre of mass is 35mm lower. There is 60mm extra headroom because the driving position is more reposed, and that means you can wear a crash hat, something you struggle to do in an Enzo.
Braking is by massive Brembo carbon ceramics and the gearbox is essentially the same Getrag dual-clutch as you'll find in an F12, but electrically powered.
458. For a million large I'd quite like something a little different to grip. But that's the last time you really bother moaning about the steering wheel because, once you've driven the LaFerrari, you struggle to find much that's wrong with it. For the business of going faster than your body feels is reasonable and, far more importantly, involving the driver in the process, this car is much more than I'd expected.
We'll start with the track performance. That lower C of G gives the car startling agility. There are no spherical bearings in the suspension, but being bolted into the tub gives a genuine sense of connection, For the first few corners you think "Jeepers, this is a mid-engined 1,000hp accident waiting to happen." And then the first time you dare to push that long-travel throttle pedal into the carpet you simply cannot compute the notion that four laps later you'll be grabbing the thing by the scruff and letting the back axle slither about. But you will, because once you get your head around the fact that the straight bits of Fiorano seem quite a bit shorter than you remember, this is a very approachable car.
With all the systems switched on in Race mode the chassis is plain superb. Front axle grip is massive, and here's the interesting bit - the steering is way more communicative than in a 458 or an F12. So you can build the speed with a greater knowledge of what's going on, peel away from the throttle mid-corner and the car neutralizes; and all the time the electronic rear differential is helping trim the line and the traction control is working hard. It'll allow a few degrees of slide before calmly reducing engine power and, in extreme cases, applying some brake.
Driven like this the LaF feels like a very fast 458 - and I mean that as the ultimate compliment. Where the LaF goes in a slightly different direction to the P1 is in simplifying the unfathomable complexity of what's underneath for the driving experience - and that's not to suggest that it's been expurgated or sanitized. There's no manual DRS or Boost button. Just two pedals, a wheel and a car that feels quite analogue, despite the vast amount of processors trimming the powertrain and chassis at pretty much all times.
The brakes are in isolation both a masterpiece and powerful enough to mean the optional race harness is necessary for any kind of track work. I really wasn't aware of any compromise in pedal feel as the regeneration kicked in. On the main straight you hit around 170mph and pin them from about 120m. The ABS fizzes and somehow you lose 120mph before turn one. After four fast laps they were very hot and very smelly, but pedal was still there. What I will say is that they lack the same sense of sheer omnipotence the P1's Akebono brakes offer - the McLaren feels like it brakes harder and would do so for longer before overheating the rotors. But you'd need to run a back-to-back to prove as much.
The P1's shape-shifting Track mode is also unmatched by the Ferrari. Further emphasising its role as a simple driving device it doesn't have an answer to the McLaren's crazy drop in ride height and massive aero increase. With all of its trickery deployed, I don't doubt that the British car would be the faster of the two over pretty much any given lap. Yes, the Ferrari's active aero is constantly working on the front and rear bodywork, but its influence on downforce is far less than on the British car's.
You can play with angles in this car - you can revel in the fact that all the extensive ESP calibration isn't protecting the driver from some feral, snappy chassis. It's a complete joy. I found myself transfixed by the simplicity of the messages it sent back to me - I was trying to over-think what it was doing when in fact all it wanted me to do was get in and drive. Drive it straight and neat with the systems on, destroy the tyres with them off; it didn't matter which because both came naturally.
Would you have one over a P1? I've promised myself that I wouldn't answer that question until I'd driven both on the same day and under the same conditions. The Ferrari is the more straightforward personality, in many ways the more complete product because it feels like a very fast version of a normal series production Ferrari. I love the styling, especially the pinched area behind the front arches, and I still can't believe how accessible they've made 963hp in a rear wheel machine. Have they over-sanitised it? Not at all. The first time you run it full beans in third gear, with the vague sensation that the front wheels want to lift off the ground, you concur that this is one of the most outrageous cars ever made. A Veyron is sliced-white by comparison.
I haven't done enough road driving in either to really call a difference. On the narrow streets near Modena the LaF is comically over-endowed, but visibility is very good, especially from those insectile wing-mirrors. There's even a bumpy road button to soften the dampers. I haven't mentioned the transmission because its so damn good you hardly know it's there. A shame for those who crave a manual, although there are some decent wallops in the neck under full power in race mode. Around town you just drop it into D and mooch. It couldn't be simpler.
The terminally cynical will probably be amused to learn that Ferrari's hypercar feels sensational around Ferrari's home circuit. But it's a superbly finished product with an operating window much wider than I'd expected. It is everything a limited series car from Maranello should be; that it happens to use electricity is immaterial because it is untraceable other than in ways which make your smile even broader. I'd like one on black.
Engine: 6,262cc V12, integrated HY-KERS electric motor
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 963 (combined, petrol engine 800hp@9,000rpm, electric motor 163hp)
Torque (lb ft): 664+ (combined, petrol engine 516@6,750rpm)
0-62mph: '<' 3sec
0-125mph: '<' 7sec
Top speed: 220mph+
Weight: Not disclosed
MPG: Not disclosed
Price: Not disclosed