A Â£340,000 Ferrari with 770bhp in wet Wales in winterÂ â€“ be afraid, be very afraid
Wales in winter. Itâ€™s cold, itâ€™s raining â€“ of course â€“ and the narrow, bumpy roads are colder still. Itâ€™s the sort of conditions in which youâ€™d give a welcome yelp and possibly even wag your tail if someone offered you a decent 4×4. But nobody has. Instead they have offered you the most intimidating Ferrari in the entire line-up, the F12 tdf. Your ears droop in the rain.
You know how this goes. It turns out that, what a relief, itâ€™s actually quite driveable if youâ€™re a skilled veteran tester like we all are. Only it doesnâ€™t go like that, not at all.
The best moment of this whole experience? Some hours afterwards, with a drink in our hands, with it all over. And that is the truth.
Even monsters like the LaFerrari, with its 950bhp, would be pussycats compared to the F12 tdf. Seriously, weâ€™d have swapped cars in a flash if given the choice. Instead we set off with some trepidation and an interesting drop of water dangling on the end of our wet and cold nose. The lessons started early.
Ferrari F12 tdf
Engine: V12, 6262cc, petrol
Gearbox: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Top speed: more than 211mph
0-62mph: 2.9 seconds
Economy: 18.3mpg (combined)
CO2Â emissions: 360g/km
First, second, third â€“ nope, canâ€™t accelerate in them. Instead the Pirellis just wheelspin viciously. Thatâ€™s in a straight line, with the back end banging and snapping in a thoroughly intimidating manner. But at least youâ€™re moving now, and now we can let that glorious V12 rev up, soaring towards the 8900rpm redline. And here comes a corner.
The tyres stay cold and rigid, no matter how much theyâ€™ve spun, and so theyâ€™re going to be as good on the brakes as they are under acceleration. Slow down, point the nose in, easy round and apply a bit of throttle carefully. And the backâ€™s gone, coming round like a Sidewinder.
Quick steering helps here, as do some flailing arms, but even so it takes a bit until all the wheels are in line again. Still, at least the exercise knocked that drip of water off your nose. You try again.
Then you stop and look around for a pen and paper, wondering if you can forge a note from your Mum, excusing you today.
But youâ€™re in the middle of nowhere and the sheep arenâ€™t interested so you press on, learning fast. This is like driving a car with a Formula One engine in it. At one level itâ€™s heartening to see Ferrari makes a car that is so utterly uncompromised. This isnâ€™t a nice car, itâ€™s not thinking of your finer feelings, itâ€™s not going to alter itself to fit round you.
Once youâ€™ve grasped that, you can reach a sort of accommodation. You realise there are rules. You have to drive very smoothly, you have to be courageous without being foolhardy and you have to â€“ you really have to â€“ avoid the top end of the rev range. The top end is completely out of bounds under these conditions, unless say youâ€™re a top race or rally star.
Driven like this, the F12 tdf becomes one of the most involving cars you could ever possibly drive. Thereâ€™s no chance whatsoever that it will ever understeer, but every chance in the world it will do the other thing. Thereâ€™s loads, tons, excesses of mid-range torque, so ride that, change smoothly, turn in early and smoothly, apply the throttle like thereâ€™s a tub of nitro-glycerine instead of a carpet under it, and never let your concentration slip, not for a second.
Then this is a sublime car, forcing you to drive the best youâ€™ve ever driven. In these conditions, it reminds you that your best is pathetically inadequate for the levels the car can rise to, but itâ€™s something.
Itâ€™s funny, before this test there was a lot of talk of how hard it would be to drive, and there was some concern it would prove to be too easy, which would be enjoyable but not so good for the story. The reality is that itâ€™s a monster on wet Welsh roads, an intimidating scary monster, beyond the skills of mortal man to conquer. Certainly beyond the skills of this one. Beaten by a car. Weâ€™re not going to argue with it, ever.
Now, whereâ€™s that drink?