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.