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An F12 Berlinetta with more power, less weight, sharper response and a whole new extra attitude... that’s the F12 Tour de France. What’s not to like?

                    E’VE BEEN LOOKING for 17 years now for the car that perfectly encapsulates the Thrill of Driving. If anything, the search has shown that the feedback, excitement, balance and sheer joy that we crave can be found in all sorts of places, from hot hatches to supercars via lightweight track cars, focused coupes and bruising saloons. From cars with no power assistance or driver aids to those that put technology at their very core and yet still value and encourage the fleshy bag of skin, bones and human error at the wheel. 

The search has been fun, uplifting, hilarious at times and very definitely better than finding ‘a real job’, as I’m often reminded by friends and family (and by evo’s publisher, come contract renegotiation time). But on the flight out to Bologna, then whilst queuing for the Insignia hire car (see, it’s not all glamour) and on the drive towards Maranello with photographer Dean Smith, I fear that the search might end with the F12tdf and the unthinkable may be inevitable. A real job. I hate this car already.

Despite myself, there’s grudging excitement bubbling away on the plane and on the drive to Maranello. Damn you Ferrari and your naturally aspirated V12s! The next day, as the gate to the Fiorano test track slides agonisingly slowly open, I feel almost giddy at what lies ahead. ‘It can’t be that good,’ I tell myself, but it’s no use. 6.3 litres, 769bhp, 8900rpm… an F12 lightened, refocused on absolute response and agility… It’s going to be epic, isn’t it? Oh well, better to forget about tomorrow and enjoy today. November in the Modena region is usually shuddering under fog and drizzle, but this is the F12tdf launch, so of course it’s sunshine, wispy clouds and a warm breeze. 

There are some things that aren’t perfect about the F12tdf, that much I know already. Firstly, it costs £339,000, which is around £100,000 more than a standard F12. Secondly, all 799 have already been sold. So it’s not exactly accessible. However, delve into its technical make-up and the price becomes easier to swallow and the demand very simple to understand. Everything, and I mean everything, has been re-engineered to increase performance and reduce response times. 

The engine has all-new intake and exhaust systems, mechanical tappets coated with DLC (diamond-like carbon), and new cam profiles to take the rev limit to 8900rpm and lift peak power by 39bhp to 769bhp at 8500rpm (250rpm higher). The seven-speed twin-clutch ’box has six per cent shorter ratios and snicks between them 30 per cent faster on upshifts and 40 per cent faster on downshifts. (What’s 30 per cent of imperceptible?) The magnetic dampers have been retuned and the new springs are around 20 per cent stiffer. Ferrari has saved 110kg by using carbonfibre for the front and rear bumpers, the extended side-sills, the entire underbody and diffuser and extensively for the interior. Downforce has increased by 87 per cent to 230kg at 124mph and the ‘Extreme Design’ braking system borrowed from the LaFerrari improves braking performance while reducing weight. The figures say that the F12tdf will reach 62mph in 2.9sec, 124mph in a scarcely believable 7.9sec and a top speed of ‘over 211mph’.

Of course, this stuff, impressive though it is, is arguably no more than you’d expect from a special series F12. What’s really fascinating is the adoption of four-wheel steering for the first time on a Ferrari. Of course Ferrari doesn’t call it anything so mundane. Oh no, the F12tdf benefits from ‘Virtual Short Wheelbase’. It’s been introduced not so much to aid agility, but rather to bring stability by mitigating the newfound turn-in response created by increased mechanical grip – a corollary of the front tyres growing from a 255-section to a 275-section. It does so by turning the rear wheels by up to one degree in the same direction as the fronts, with electromechanical actuators acting on the toe links to create the steering force. The tyres are P Zero Corsas, the first time we’ve seen the new generation from Pirelli. So in effect the F12tdf is inherently unstable due to its turn-in capabilities but the potentially vicious oversteer is tamed by the four-wheel steering system. At least that’s the theory. 

Top: tdf is monstrously fast, but also far stiffer-riding than the regular F12. Left: there are tweaks to the aero everywhere; this flick apparently helps promote downforce

I’m two corners from the end of my third and final lap of Fiorano. It’s a wickedly fast fourth-gear left-hander that always gives me the heebie-jeebies, and the F12tdf is oversteering. Not a lovely, big, easily-held angle nor a deliciously accurate sliver of slip to pin the front wheels to the kerb, but little jagged spikes of terror, one followed by another, followed by another. The exit kerb hangs out wide to the right initially but then guides you firmly left again towards the following straight. The red and white line feels suffocating when you’ve got an F12tdf grip-slip-grip-slipping beneath you. 

And the edge is lined with cones. They’re not big (thankfully) but they’re getting bigger and bigger and… I grimace and wait for the thunk-thunk-thunk and the rainbow of orange plastic arcing into the sky, but amazingly I j-u-s-t miss them. I’m elated but it’s the first time since we arrived at Fiorano. The F12tdf is not a car that you just jump into and feel immediately comfortable with. In fact it’s a tricky, sometimes unnerving car to drive quickly. The bright yellow paintwork of our track car remains unblemished when I head to the pits but I’m perplexed. Have I forgotten how to drive or has Ferrari somehow undone the F12’s transparent balance with its intense focus on absolute agility, grip and performance?

Traction is much improved over the regular F12 and the tyres seem better able to tolerate a bit of slip without overheating. In the standard car it’s all too easy to overwhelm the tyres, get them too hot and then all traction is lost until they cool right back down again. The Corsas can still be torn-up by all that torque but, even in CST Off mode when you allow the wheels to spin up and use a bit of tail-slip, you’ll still find strong traction on the following corner-exit. In fact you can really throw the F12tdf along this hellish piece of road, using that astonishing turn-in, driving deep into the excellent electronic driver aids that let you balance the car on the throttle, and it stays with you all the way. Faster, more controlled, with much greater traction, while resisting the F12’s usual habit of simply melting its rear tyres into a smokescreen, the F12tdf is a mightily impressive car.

Sunset is upon us all too quickly and the drive back to the factory is a race to meet Ferrari’s 6pm curfew. Traffic is heavy on the major roads and although the F12tdf is a killer overtaking machine we elect to head cross-country. It skims across the ground at alarming speed, a ball of near-deafening V12 noise and relentless energy. Life, you reason, doesn’t get much better. 

It’s not perfect, though. The F12tdf doesn’t flow with the same amazing suppleness nor the on-limit composure of, say, a 458 Speciale. It doesn’t scream feedback with its every fibre like a 997 GT3 RS 4.0 and, despite the complex challenge it offers, the rewards for getting it right aren’t as rich as those offered by Zonda, Carrera GT or F50. Time with the F12tdf was short, the road compromised, but it never quite blew my mind as I’d expected. In other words, the real job can wait. 


With so little time to acclimatise, it’s tricky to unpick exactly what’s going on but I do know I’m making every corner feel like negotiating a giant 50-pence piece. The tdf has amazing turn-in but the rear of the car seems to instantly want to break loose. You feel it happening and it’s coming quick so you throw in a correction. As it turns out, an over-correction. The rear-steer has already acted to increase stability and reduce the yaw and hence your steering input is unnecessary. I can break that down now with some time to digest what’s going on, but when it’s happening live, that ferocious V12 shrieking at you and what feels like a big snap of oversteer right on your shoulder, it’s very difficult for your brain and backside to compute. 

After a 30-minute photography session following those initial clumsy forays, we’re allowed to sneak in one more fast lap. I twist the manettino to CST Off but keep ESC lurking in the background. Instead of trying to drive as fast as I dare, I commit to driving as smoothly as I can: tiny steering inputs, gradual throttle inputs to take account of the unbelievably aggressive response, just everything as honey-coated as I can manage. 

The F12tdf isn’t transformed but it does start to make sense. It carries phenomenal speed into an apex, then there’s the unnatural feeling of yaw building fast and then stabilising – try not to dial-in an instinctive correction before it does so – and only then can you drive out of the corner hard and let the rear tyres start to slip under power. By now you know exactly where the car is and what it’s doing, so the lovely flicks of oversteer feel absolutely intuitive. Phew. I can still drive a car! I’m absolutely in love with the drivetrain, too. Such sweet violence.

The time at Fiorano is all a bit of a blur, to be honest. Ferrari admits that the F12tdf takes time to really understand and demands incredibly delicate inputs to reveal its true potential, but didn’t deem it necessary to allow us much time to make that discovery… Doesn’t make much sense to me, but I guess I would say that. 

On the road it’s a similar story. We’re sharing a car with another magazine, who will drive and shoot first, then we’ll swap at 4pm for Dean to grab some images and so I can see how the tdf feels on the road. Sunset is at 4.45pm so it’s almost impossibly tight. At least I get the drive back to the factory, too. 

The designated road is narrow, unbelievably twisty and has a horrendous surface. It should ably demonstrate the virtues of Virtual Short Wheelbase but it’s also a big test for the chassis’ composure. It’s certainly not a place to test the absolute limits but that’s no bad thing. If the tdf feels as artificial and spiky here at representative road speeds as it did initially on the track, then Ferrari might have actually got its sums wrong for once.

The first few miles are all about the engine. Enhanced with lightweight (but also noisier) mechanical tappets, continuously variable- length inlet ducts and the new intake and exhaust systems, it’s just so powerful, so sharp, so utterly magnificent in every way. Throttle response is perhaps a shade too sharp if you select Race on the manettino – which you really need to in order to slacken off the traction control so it’s not impeding progress – but the delivery is so savage and so precise that it’s almost impossible not to let out involuntary sighs of approval: ‘Oh wow’, ‘my God’, ‘ho-lee shiiiii…’ This, along with the shattering howl of V12, is the soundtrack to any time spent in the F12tdf. The ’box is stunning, too, firing in upshifts with sickening speed and teasing the rear axle to the very point of locking-up on downshifts. The drivetrain is deeply fabulous and makes any turbocharged engine you care to mention feel cheap and lazy. 

What of the chassis? Well, it’s aggressive in the extreme. The ride is pretty tough by modern Ferrari standards and the fluidity retained even by the hardcore Speciale is replaced by a more combative way of conquering a road. It rattles over broken tarmac and bounces over big bumps. However, that physicality is understandable when you feel the control of this 1520kg car as it flashes from one direction to the next. Now we’re some way shy of the P Zero Corsa’s limits and that unnerving sensation of the rear of the car wanting to overtake the front is gone, replaced with quite startling agility and unflappable body control. The steering is heavier than the standard F12’s thanks to those wider tyres and more aggressive camber settings, and although it’s still very, very fast, you soon start to pick up messages through the wheel and feel encouraged to really lean on that amazing front-end grip. 

‘THE ENGINE IS JUST SO POWERFUL, SO
SHARP, SO UTTERLY MAGNIFICENT
IN EVERY WAY’

‘THE FIGURES SAY THAT THE F12TDF WILL REACH 62MPH IN 2.9SEC AND 124MPH IN A SCARCELY BELIEVABLE 7.9SEC’

PHOTOGRAPHY by DEAN SMITH

By JETHRO BOVINGDON

Changes to V12 include variable geometry intake system and race-style mechanical tappets.

Rear wing vents help aero, look gorgeous.

Ferrari f12tdf

EngineV12, 6262cc

CO2360g/km

Power 769bhp @ 8500rpm

Torque 520lb ft @ 6250rpm

Transmission Seven-speed DCT, rear-wheel drive, E-diff 3, F1 Trac, ESC

Tyres 275/35 ZR20 front, 315/35 ZR20 rear

Weight 1520kg

Power-to-weight514bhp/ton

0-62mph 2.9sec (claimed)

Top speed 211mph+ (claimed)

Basic price£339,000 (sold out)

evo rating

‘IT SKIM ACROSS THE GROUND
AT ALARMING SPED, A BALL OF
NEAR-DEAFENING V12 NOISE
AND RELENTLESS ENERGY’