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First drive: Ferrari 812 Superfast

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Driving Ferrari’s latest and greatest V12 supercar at the Fiorano test track and the hills around Modena

“Turn CT off,” says Ferrari’s chief development driver Rafaelle de Simone on the sighting lap of Fiorano, “And you can do this,” he adds as the revs rise sharply as he plants his foot in and the tail swings out. Welcome to a Ferrari press event where you’re made to sit through a breathtakingly detailed technical presentation and then allowed to turn off all electronic aids and drive your heart out. “CT Off is best, you can feel Side Slip Control working.” Okay then.

At the heart of it

Enzo Ferrari once said that when you buy a Ferrari you pay for the engine, the rest of the car is free, so let’s start with the V12 in the long, long nose of the 812 Superfast. While the world – including Ferrari! – aggressively adopts turbocharging it’s a welcome relief that the V12 is still alive and well in the temple of supercardom. Based on the motor from the F12 and the special-edition F12tdf, the V12 has been stroked out to 6.5 litres and 75 per cent new with a new crankshaft, new con rods, stronger crankcase, new cylinder heads, improved inlet and exhaust valve design, revised variable geometry intake tracts and a higher pressure fuel injection system now operating at 350bar (from 200). The result is a staggering 789bhp of power, made at a stratospheric 8500rpm (the 8 in 812 references the 800PS of power, 12 the number of cylinders). Max torque is 718Nm, peaking at 7000rpm, but 80 per cent of grunt is available from 3500rpm. And it revs all the way to 8900rpm! I’ll repeat that, 8900rpm from a large capacity V12 motor! Can you even begin to imagine what a V12 motor shrieking at 8900rpm sounds like?

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A pussy cat

Our day begins trundling through the streets of Modena, the 812 Superfast in Sport (normal in a Ferrari is Sport, how appropriate that is!), the gearbox in full auto, suspension in bumpy road for roads in Italy aren’t the smoothest. My driving partner and I wonder where the famed hills of Modena have gone, why we’re being taken through these little towns. And then we realise, heck, the 812 SF is actually very easy to drive. The ride quality for such an immensely powerful car is absolutely lovely, there’s not a shunt from the driveline, the engine purrs like a pussy cat at 3000rpm and the interiors are lovely. Even economy and emissions have improved over the F12 and there’s a stop-start system that cuts the engine when you’re decelerating below 10kmph. This is a GT car and it is Grand Touring rather beautifully. But trundling is a waste of everybody’s time and effort.

The hills

An hour later we are where we want to be. The hills. Race mode. Down the ’box. Floor it.

Obviously the 812 SF is very, very fast. 789bhp cannot be anything but utterly mad. But… my god… there’s fast and there’s super fast. First off it’s ridiculous how it puts down all the power. The 812 SF doesn’t rely on all-wheel drive, each of the rear tyres has to deal with nearly 400 horses, and the roads aren’t baby-butt smooth. Yet the e-diff finds grip, the suspension rides over bumps and she goes. Reactions are instant. Electric seems like a rather tame word to describe the responses. It’s off the charts. The 812 SF runs up to 8900rpm so quickly in first gear, the shift lights on the steering wheel light up so quickly, it’s best to leave the gearbox to its devices and bang in the next gear. It’s the precise reason why no Ferrari gets a manual gearbox anymore – the human just cannot row through the gears quickly enough.

The gearbox is without question the best in the supercar world. Compared to the F12 gear ratios have been lowered by an average of six per cent to improve acceleration. The paddles respond quicker and there is improved torque management to reduce upshift times by 30 percent and down shift times by 40 per cent. Hard on the brakes, keep the left paddle pulled, and the ‘multi-down’ function will go down three gears in one second! And then Ferrari unleashed the acoustic engineers to tune the blip on the downshift to make those hairs that are already standing on the back of your neck jump out of their roots.

0-100kmph takes a claimed in 2.9 seconds while 200kmph takes 7.8 seconds. Top speed is 337kmph. And then there’s the sound of that V12!

The engine breathes out through two six-into-one exhaust manifolds with pipes tweaked to enhance the V12’s scream, and the higher you rev it the more magnificent it sounds. At 8500rpm in second gear it is impossibly loud, impossibly fantastic. It barks, fizzes, shrieks, screams and runs through the entire orchestra to deliver the most spine-tingling mechanical notes I’ve heard in a long while. The F1 powers-that-be ought to make a trip to Maranello and hear an 812 SF screaming through the gears. And from the outside an 812 SF bombing past you is physically shocking, like a low-flying fighter jet.

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“Every Ferrari is different”

Says design head Flavio Manzoni when quizzed on why every Ferrari looks dramatically different from the one gone by. “We don’t follow any trend, Ferrari cannot follow any trend. In my opinion this is design, not style.

Enzo Ferrari once also said aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines but obviously those days are now well past and the 812 SF is a product of the wind tunnel. The entire body is a lesson in aerodynamics with scoops, slashes, air channels and active and passive mobile aero devices to increase downforce over the F12 by 30 per cent. The mobile aero devices are activated by air pressure – ducts and flaps that open and close to either increase downforce or reduce drag. There are turning vanes in the front bumper, a blown rear diffuser, curved dams on the flat underbody and a bigger rear spoiler. It all sounds hideously overdone, yet Flavio Manzoni’s in-house design team (no Pininfarina anymore) have blended those elements into a car that looks utterly breathtaking.

Making noise in the hills

There is, of course, a passing resemblance to the F12 and the spaceframe, constructed largely of aluminium, is based on the F12’s with the notable addition of rear wheel steer from the F12tdf. Virtual Short Wheelbase as Ferrari calls it, is claimed to enhance stability at speed and improve manoeuvrability at low speeds and even on intimidatingly narrow Italian mountain roads the two metre wide 812 SF does not feel wide. The rear wheel steering interfaces with Ferrari’s first application of electric power steering, the electronic rear differential, the F1-Trac traction control and fifth generation of Side Slip Control. It all sounds crazily complicated but in reality you don’t feel any of it at work. On the road everything feels natural: the build up of cornering forces, the slight lean, the way it powers out of corners fast or slow. You grow in confidence, push it harder and it stays with you, never feeling ragged or lairy. It is absolutely stable and planted with absolutely no understeer and equally no oversteer (at least not when you don’t want it). The cornering power is just phenomenal as are the responses, adding to frankly unbelievable pace through the twists and turns of the Modense hills.

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The compliance in the suspension lets you put down all the power, it does not hop or skip over bumps. The turn-in response is just phenomenal, a factor of the rear wheel steering, and even though the steering is electrically assisted, responses are good and it remains hyper-alert like all Ferrari helms of the recent past. The steering is so quick it has barely two turns lock to lock and even on really tight twisties you never need to apply more than half a turn of steering lock, never have to take your hands off the steering wheel. And the brakes, Brembo Extreme carbon ceramics similar to the ones in the LaFerrari hypercar, have inexhaustible stopping power.

Tyres are the same size as on the F12tdf, 275/35ZR20s up front and 315s at the rear. And to accelerate wear of those rears the 812 SF has something called Ferrari Peak Performance (FPP) and Ferrari Power Oversteer (FPO), both intended to improve the driver’s ability by varying torque on the steering wheel to indicate when the car’s limits are approaching and also guiding the driver to make proper inputs to correct oversteer. But this is best experienced on the track.

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“It’s okay if you spin”

Says Rafaelle de Simone as we get back to the pits after one sighting lap of Fiorano and I’m handed the helm.

My first lap is with CT off. By now my brain should have (somewhat) adjusted to the incredible speeds of the 812 but, still, it’s best to take it step by step especially as Fiorano is very technical with very little run off. If on the road the 812 SF was magnificent, out on track it is near-indescribable. That V12 revs like a demon. With most new engines it’s pointless screaming it to the redline as its best work is over at the torque peak, but this V12 gets better the harder you rev it. Above 7000rpm the surge of acceleration takes on otherworldly proportions. Bang in the next gear, your helmeted head bangs against the headrest as it fires off a lightning quick shift. It’s so loud that at one part of the circuit we are told to lift off so that the neighbors don’t complain about the noise! We’re not talking about an F1 car here!

Next lap turn CT Off, experience Slide Slip Control. In its fifth generation apart from working with the ESC and the suspension (it can even slacken the rear dampers while oversteering to let you carry a longer slide!) it now also talks to the steering and feeds in torque to the steering wheel to indicate when and in which direction you should be applying steering lock. For instance when the tail is sliding the steering wants less torque to countersteer than it does to add more lock – subtlety hinting at what you should be doing behind the wheel. And out on track I couldn’t feel it working which, later on I’m told, is exactly what the system is supposed to feel like. Like a ghost driver helping you steer the car back in line. Give it revs at the exit of the first corner and the tail comes out beautifully. You have to apply opposite lock, the car only indicates what you should do, but if you do it properly and stay on the gas the 812 SF will slide all the way to the exit with half a turn of corrective lock. SSC actually reads your driving to judge how much slip you’re capable of playing with! The SF is intoxicating, makes you feel like a driving hero, but there is still a safety net so if you overdo the slide (and with 789bhp it is easy to overdo it) it will trim the power and save you from yourself. A 789bhp supercar that you – a driver not knocking on the doors of any F1 team! – can play around with, a car you can slide all the way out of the hairpin, power oversteer up the bridge section, whoever thought that was even possible!

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Superfast

The name might hark back to Ferrari’s history, the ’59 Superfast, but as far as names go it is the most cheesy name to adorn a road car. It’s like Land Rover christening the next Defender Enjoysgettingabitmuddy, or the Prius being called Totallylackinginemotion. But truth be told, Superfast is an absolutely appropriate name for what truly is the pinnacle of V12 road cars. It’s more a statement of fact. Heck, the name now seems like an understatement.


About the author

Sirish Chandran

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