2012 Ferrari F12 Berlinetta first drive
"You drove the F12?" There's a Latin American accent and no small amount of interest in Felipe Massa's voice. My interview with him just got a lot more personal. But why should an F1 driver be excited about a road car? Allow me to take you back a couple of weeks.
The hills are alive with the sound of music. A rapturous V12 clearing its throat and hitting the high notes effortlessly with a menacing yowl. Half past noon and I'm having the time of my life, settled in the snug black and red leather seat, familiar with the controls clustered on the steering wheel, little red switch set to race mode and 740 horses just waiting for my command. The sun is peeking through the clouds and there isn't another car in sight.
Hours later, at the hotel trying to grab a drink, my hands still tremble, adrenaline is still mainlining my system. Next morning, the shiver is extant though subconscious. That's the effect of the Ferrari V12, one that I might add, makes as much power as the scarlet F1 car. Six decades of awesome road cars and F1 technology coalesced into a stylish, incredibly aerodynamic package. The F12berlinetta's arrival is epic. And it also means that Ferrari has completed the revamp of its full range that began with the California four years ago and reached here via the 458, FF and the 458 Spyder. The breathtaking 599GTB has been replaced.
The blend of style and aerodynamics, hued in the new signature "Rosso Berlinetta" is absolutely stunning. Ferrari and Pininfarina created the new lines and added downforce without adding more wings or appendages. The Aerobridge is a great example. Sculpted channels on the bonnet guide air through the Aerobridge to another set of channels on the car's flanks, setting it free near the tail lamps. It's a clean, almost invisible way to get more downforce. A mind bending 76 per cent more downforce than the 599. They also achieved in the new car, the Ferrari ideal, a 46:54 rear-biased weight distribution, ensuring all the car's mass sat within the wheelbase for the best possible dynamics. The F12, as a result, has clean curvy lines, is shorter, lower to the ground, 70kg lighter than the 599 and is structurally 20 per cent more rigid. And for those of you who thought the 458's blend of the classic and the futuristic could not be topped, the F12 nearly does. I know you've drooled over the pics but in the flesh this is a vastly more dramatic car. A large grille feeds the V12 air while the scoops are anything but fussy. The front also has active brake cooling ducts that stay shut until the car decides the brakes could do with some fresh air. The sleek coupe silhouette is dominated by the aero channels and the rear is a sharp Kamm tail that gives prominence to the massive diffuser and the cool F1 style rear fog/brake light. It's clearly a powerful car says the design, without the unsubtlely of the Aventador, to pick an example.
The cabin is more 458 than FF except for the same top notch workmanship and materials. And it accommodated my 6'8" frame - the driver and the passenger sit lower than in 599 which makes ultra-lanky frames a relatively easy fit. There is even space behind the seats for storage and 320 litres of boot space. And just to reinforce its grand tourer credentials, the F12 even has a reasonably unfiddly sat-nav and Bluetooth audio.
Like the 458, the steering wheel wears all the important (and some not so important) controls, like the manettino, the engine start button, lights and wipers. Ferrari says this keep the hands on the wheel and this does actually happen. The instruments show all the information you need including sat-nav directions and there is the optional LED strip that shows revs, speed and navigation.
But the essence of the Ferrari is the V12. The very first car was the V12 - the 125S - and while everyone else is downsizing or turbocharging, the Ferrari team has been refining, fettling and updating the naturally aspirated V12. Fire it up and the sound is the first thing you will notice. The note is a constant companion even at the slow speeds while you drive out of the factory gates. The sound elicits waves and cheers even from the most jaded of Maranello bystanders. Sountrack aside, the F12 is easy to drive at slow speeds, does not overwhelm you with its size, visibility is good and the engine's low end grunt is vast so you can drive through town in high gears in automatic mode.
But goose the throttle even with the manettino in sport (that is the new comfort mode) and the acceleration is unlike anything short of the 1000PS Veyron. Hitting the gas for the first time leaves you dazed while the horizon seems to narrow like on the deck of the Starship Enterprise as its hits light speed. The passenger seat amplifies this feeling - when I reluctantly tried it out, I thought my spine wanted to smash through the luggage bench while the contents of my stomach (a lethal cocktail of fresh Italian farmland goodness and extra strong coffee) violently made their way to the forward exit.
Back at the helm and faced with kilometres of well surfaced double lane country roads, I let rip again and flick the left paddle down a gear or two, listen to the V12 as I get on the gas and then flit back up the gears. The brutality of the acceleration finds no ebb while the gear changes barely register. The 7-speed dual clutch gearbox is so seamless that Ferrari engineered a bit of over boost before and after the shift to transmit sensation and feedback to the driver.
Forty kilometres later, I'm still in awe. Massive smile on my face, camera card full, F12 drawing a crowd as I wrap up the TV shoot. And I can't get the F12 out of my head. The engine seems never to run out of power and torque, though you run out of road and ability. This is the ultimate Ferrari V12 experience. Until the new Enzo comes out.
And as the flagship Cavallino Rampante, it's required to overwhelm with numbers. Max power is 740PS delivered at 8250rpm, 690Nm is the torque peak (80 per cent is available from 2500rpm to 8700rpm). 100kmph is 3.1s away, 200 is less than 8.5. Top speed is 339kmph. And compared to the 599 this is 30 per cent more efficient and environmentally friendly. And this car beats the Enzo around Fiorano by a bit and is 4.5s quicker than the 599 as well. 1m 23s is all it needs at Fiorano thanks to the witches brew of improvements to the suspension (magnetic dampers), quicker steering, electronics (torque vectoring e-diff), new Michelin tyres and the massive increase in downforce. 740 useable horses delivered to the rear wheels.
Sitting in the car, my natural instinct is to flex my arms and prepare for a workout. But the F12 is unnervingly light. The steering rack is short - two turns lock to lock and the steering wheel is light but so precise that you need to modulate your enthusiasm. Not curb it, just finesse it. Make the leap and the Berlinetta is intensely rewarding to drive, far removed from the Ferraris of yore. This car is designed to let the average driver access more of its abilities than any car before it, without always threatening to bite their head off. There is even a hint of understeer designed in to make you feel at home. Get cocky and switch off the electronics and its white-knuckle fear time. The very fear and the doubt that make supercars so addictive are just hidden behind the electronics.
Ferrari have also got the new CCM3 braking system updated with new pad materials and physical and software tweaks that allow it to stop from 200kmph in 131m, seven less than the 599. So it generates amazing g forces stopping or going. And it has ride quality too. Eight hours produced no twinges in back or butt. Ferrari say their V12 sportscars get driven almost daily and the comfort is no coincidence. The F12 was created to seamlessly answer two different callings. I can cruise around town or throw in a few bags and head out.
The F12 then is a truly epic automobile, everything about it the looks, power, presence, intimidation factor, luxury, the surprising driveability; everything about this stunning new Ferrari is epic including the price tag (close to Rs 2 crore in Europe). But the one thing I will take away from Maranello with me, the thing that will haunt my dreams for the next ever so many weeks is the visceral, rapturous full bodied sound of a Ferrari V12 howling away at full revs. The sound of speed, technology and most importantly tradition. The devil's trill hinting at its ability to thrill when given license.
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