Here’s one way in which at least part of the world is changing. Twenty years ago Italy was one of Ferrari’s top three markets, vying for the top position with the US and Germany, and regularly accounting for one in four of all cars made in Maranello. Today barely one Ferrari in 25 stays home and the ratio is falling all the time.
It’s not just the sales distribution that’s changing at Ferrari. Every time I come here the factory seems to have sprouted some new wing. Happily some things have stayed the same: the simple square arch that marked the old entrance to the factory on Via Abetone survives; in fact I believe it’s listed.
Fiorano appears little different too. Built in 1972, Ferrari’s famed test track remains the challenge it always was and if you stand and shut your eyes, you’ll still be able to kid yourself you can hear the howl of a flat-12 race engine in the back of an F1 car – in my mind always Villeneuve’s 312T3.
But the weekend was spent there in the company of another dozen Ferrari cylinders, as I attended the launch of its new F12berlinetta. In terms of its dynamic capabilities, this is the most extreme Ferrari that’s ever been offered for sale to the general public, and that includes the Enzo.
Ferrari’s last hypercar had 651bhp, enough to allow it to lap this track in 1min 24.9sec. The F12 possesses 730bhp and will circulate Fiorano almost 2sec quicker. What’s remarkable, however, is that the Enzo was a limited release, carbon-fibre wedge designed to do nothing other than go as fast as humanly possible. By contrast, the F12 has an aluminium body and frame, the same boot space as a BMW 7 Series and will waft along in heavy traffic making no more noise than a family saloon. Yet when you find yourself on the right road or, ideally, track, it does things no Ferrari road car has ever done.
But its wonderful civility aside, what I liked most about the F12 is it turns out not to be a very easy car to drive. Even I find this a curious thing to say because for me, part of what makes a great driver’s car is how it behaves on and over the limit. A couple of months ago I reviewed the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Black Series in the magazine and was overjoyed to discover a car that was almost as stable on full opposite lock as it had been parked outside my house.
But I didn’t want the Ferrari to be easy. To me that’s not what Ferraris are about: sure you can make them easy by instructing the electronic nannies in the ECU to ensure the car never loses adhesion. But if you stand them down, turn the F12 into an entirely analogue car and head out around Fiorano, a very different picture emerges.
By the standards of most of the people who’ve driven around this track in the last 40 years I am not a particularly good driver; in fact I’m a particularly poor one. But even I appreciated the challenge laid down by the F12. On one hand it said that if you failed to respect it, you’d be in the barriers before the end of the first lap. On the other it hinted that if you bothered to learn its ways, there was something sublime waiting for you.
And so it proved. This was not a car in which to execute enormous powerslides – it would do them but not neatly in my hands. Instead its throttle response was so good and its chassis so lucid that if you really focused on what you were doing, it would drift like an old GTO, nose pointing at the inside of the track, car travelling perpendicular to it, and with no discernible lock applied in either direction.
For all its mind-melting technology, this latest and, in my view, one of the very greatest Ferraris, is an old schooler at heart. The V12 in the front, gearbox at the back, passengers in the middle configuration is one Ferrari first adopted in 1964 with the launch of the 275GTB, and it’s retained by the F12 to this day.
So good to see that, amid all the changes at and around Maranello, it’s not just the old buildings that have stayed the same.