I was a 599 GTB owner when Ferrari announced the new F12 last year. Being so left me even more astonished when the official numbers were released. I had been using my car that day, all 620hp of it, and on damp roads I had just left the traction control on and wondered what on earth the point of having so much power in such conditions really was. In fact I left the TC on in the 599 most of the time because it felt unwise not to.
740hp means it'll do this all day long...
And with those thoughts pinging around my head Ferrari announces a car that has another 120hp, and weighs 225kg less. It just didn't compute. I couldn't actually see the point and imagined F12s being buried in hedges the moment unsuspecting owners contemplated touching the throttle pedal.
That was last March, the car has been on sale a while and many of you will know that I'm not on the Ferrari Christmas card list, but the people at Ferrari UK asked if I wanted to shoot a video on the F12 (the 458 Spider effort has garnered a few views) and I immediately said yes. I am a car addict, not a politician, and I want to know what a 740hp, rear-drive Ferrari feels like. The idea was to shoot a pretty special video of the car that doesn't enter the murky waters of comparison tests, performance data, power outputs and lap times (neither party is happy going down that route just yet!) which we have done, but the editor wanted some words on it in advance, so here goes.
We needed the car to shoot on the Thursday and Friday, so naturally I insisted on collecting it as early as possible on Monday for 'planning reasons'.
...but not entirely without consequences!
For years people have been urging car manufacturers to seek extra performance through reduced size and mass rather than throwing extra power at the problem. Ferrari has only embraced half of this philosophy. The F12 is not only lighter than the 599, it's a good deal smaller too. In Rosso Berlinetta (£15,360), to my eyes it looks absolutely stunning - miles better in real life and juxtaposed against normal cars. The rear is a little fussy and time will have to judge the prominence of the F1 rain light, but for me it's another great looking Ferrari.
The driving position is low, the wheel adjusts electrically straight back into your chest and the seat is meanly padded. There's some clever weight saving going on here; all carpets and trim materials are ultra-lightweight with technical feeling surfaces. The seats are especially clever because despite appearing at first to offer Amish levels of comfort, they're actually perfect over long distances.
The accelerator springing takes some getting used to. It's very hard, the travel is long and it needs a decent push, but the dual-clutch 'box engages first so much more smoothly than the old hydraulic manual you don't need a three day acclimatisation course to avoid looking a prick in traffic. I just left it in full auto mode and let the computer take the strain.
One of the defining Ferrari V12s? In with a shout
There is complete emotional and sensual detachment from the controls on the F12. Ferrari has being going this way for some time, but driving the car on the road can feel a touch like being in a simulator. The steering is very fast but doesn't offer any tangible sensation of connecting the driver to the road, the brake pedal is pretty numb at road speeds because the carbon ceramic discs are operating so far below their preferred temperatures and, perhaps most tellingly, the noises it makes are a little contrived.
Jekyll and ... HIDE!
Especially the difference between quiet F12 and shouty F12. The former really is a whisper-jet, barely audible or discernable as a 6.3-litre V12, the other is one of the most outrageous noises ever emitted by a motor car. The trouble is, the exact moment those exhaust baffles open and proclaim war on pedestrians' ears never quite seems to be controlled by the drivers' right foot. It's just too much for me. I found myself cringing every time it let rip because people turn around and stare.
The default cornering stance, any gear, any speed
Driving the F12 on the road in the UK is nothing more than a lesson in restraint. In most very, very fast cars the judicious, experienced driver can find moments to explore those capabilities without exposing themselves to too much trouble. The F12 exists outside those boundaries and in a zone I have only really experienced before driving loopy 800hp GT-Rs. It is so fast, the numbers accrue so vividly that it really is impossible to experience the full glory on the public road. That's a sad admission, but it's true.
It also presents the F12 with a tricky secondary role. Can it be any good at three tenths of its ultimate ability? Expecting a 1,525kg (dry), 211mph Ferrari sports GT car to be the last word in communication is naïve, but the PlayStation controls are slightly misleading. You need to spend several days in the F12 before you drop into the speed of its controls and the way it goes about its business, and only then do you reach the conclusion that it is miles more pleasant than the 599 at a relative plodding pace. The smaller dimensions make it much easier to place on UK roads, the transmission is very good too. The moment was moving with any fluidity, I just left it in manual mode and the Manettino in Race.
Too powerful according to Jeremy Clarkson...
The most important button for inhabitants of this small island is the one sporting the damper logo on the steering wheel. Push it and the message 'Bumpy Road' appears on the dash, indicating a softer damper setting. Now you have a car supple enough to enjoy on any of our tragic road surfaces - it's a real bonus and seriously broadens the car's appeal and usability. On long motorway trips, the F12 is less fatiguing than a 991.
The quick steering can catch you out though. The seat position is so far back in the chassis, and the rack so fast that it's very easy to add more steering to the car than intended. Again, you learn to adjust your inputs with familiarisation.
Otherwise the public highway offers very little opportunity to test any part of the F12's dynamic behaviour. The cabin is first-rate, ergonomically insane, but rather endearing because of that. I'm now a big fan of the wheel-mounted indicator switches, but not the dipped/main beam equivalent. Apologies to everyone I blinded. Furthermore, we need to celebrate the fact that you can now climb into a Ferrari, have your telephone instantly connect to its brain, alongside your music files, and then easily input a destination into the navigation, and be on your way. In my 599, this never quite happened.
To the circuit then. With the Manettino set to 'CT off', the car has reduced electronic chassis intervention and is comfortably the best front-engined car of its type I've driven. The front axle turns with no delay, grip builds mid corner in a way I just didn't expect from a basic Pirelli P-Zero and traction doesn't square with specification sheet that reads 'front-engined, rear wheel drive'. Imagine an E46 M3 CSL with greater accuracy, similar breakaway characteristics and over 700hp? This is that car. It is absurdly talented and enjoyable.
The brakes are simply immense, but four hot laps are your limit, even with the active brake cooling flaps open.
And the engine? You just never fully come to terms with it. The power just builds and builds, the numbers on the dashboard become alarming and the intake noise hurts your ears. I have never driven anything as fast in such a manner as this. All systems off, it will oversteer in fourth gear at over 100mph, and with perfect balance. I just can't wait for you all to see the video.
So that's a quick look at the F12. I wouldn't even look at an Aventador now. I was discussing this with a colleague recently. For me the dynamic gap between the big-banger V12 Ferrari and Lambo has never been bigger. And it's Ferrari that makes by far the better drivers' car.
Engine: 6,262cc V12
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 740@8,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 509@6,000rpm
Top speed: 'over' 211mph
MPG: 18.8mpg (NEDC combined)
Price: £303,370.08 (As tested)