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Ferrari fever: Vicki test-drives the F12 berlinetta
A world record was broken on Saturday for the largest parade of Ferraris ever staged. In a shiny red Ferrari FF, I helped make up the 964-strong gang who drove around Silverstone's 3.6-mile GP circuit, three abreast, for one lap at a very un-Ferrari 5mph. Headed by F1 driver Felipe Massa, it took us 15 minutes to all pour onto the circuit - and once we were there a mere 250 metres separated the front of the pack from the back.
With my kindergarten maths there was more than £50 million worth of metal chugging around - and none of them overheated, well, not that I saw.
The one car not in the parade was the company's latest offering, the £240,000 F12 berlinetta. Ferrari is currently cutting the umbilical cord to this GT car that's as powerful as a Formula One machine but as friendly as a Fiat 500.
I'm still getting my breath back from an eight-hour road test of it on some twisty roads above Ferrari's HQ at Maranello in Italy, and the F12 has such a split personality that it's messed with my head.
Under the bonnet is a new 6.3-litre V12 engine with a staggering 730bhp that makes it the fastest production car ever to emerge from the factory doors. Its statistics are worthy of a mention early on because 62mph arrives in 3.1 seconds, and 124mph comes in 8.4 seconds. Then there's the torque which is more than 500lb ft - most of which is on tap, or on foot, from a lowly 2,500rpm.
All of that makes it possible to drive through a village at around 1,5000rpm in fifth gear and still have some grunt to accelerate reasonably out of it. It's a V12! Is there witchcraft at play within these cylinders?
Even when parked, it's the most fantastically scary engine I've ever set eyes on. It sits as far back and as low down as possible to boost handling and its twin bank of red-topped metal dominates the space. It made me shiver.
Fire it up and it'll play an intoxicating Ferrari theme tune, but blip the throttle and your goose bumps get goose bumps.
Just a small part of what this motor can do
To my eyes it's not as beautiful as the Ferrari 458 but it's way more practical with as much boot space as you'll find in a VW Golf estate (seats up), and thanks to some smart suspension parts it's seriously comfortable. All of which makes it the perfect GT car that will cross countries with ease, let alone counties.
But that is just a small part of what this motor can do. Dial the traction control totally out of the car and put it onto your right foot and it becomes one of the most manic machines on earth. It won't keep in a straight line when you hit the throttle hard in the first four gears, and I can't tell you what happens at that pace in fifth, sixth or seventh because the road ran out - as is likely to happen when you're in something that can burst through the 200mph barrier.
I have never been so alert in any other road car before - my eyes, my hands, my brain, my bum, my feet were on information overload and I daren't let up until we parked up. Sharp intakes of breath were a regular occurrence.
And then there were the corners.
I was filming the F12 for a forthcoming episode of Fifth Gear TV so plenty of sideways action was needed to make it fun to watch. Always happy to oblige, I picked a good bend, threw the steering wheel into it and gave the V12 a hefty boot. The back end swung round at an electric pace needing seriously quick hands and utter concentration to keep the rear tyres smoking the tarmac, not the grass.
The F12 is rewarding once you've learned to tame it, but you need to be some sort of professional driver or total
Rewarding once you've learned to tame it
nutter to do it. So I fear most of the F12s will live their lives with their talent remained untapped. (The 458 is still my favourite handling car because you can get it to dance without as much provocation.)
You don't have to be a racer to appreciate a Ferrari though. A few days ago I was part of a gaggle of serious car buffs as we crowned a 62 year old forlorn Ferrari the best thing at the Salon Privé show in London - Britain's answer to America's Pebble Beach. We even had sunshine this year.
I joined the likes of five-times Le Mans winner Derek Bell MBE, car design guru Andrea Zagato, and CEO of Aston Martin Dr Ulrich Bez to judge 83 supercars and superbikes of all denominations from multi-million pounds worth of Ferrari F40s and Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwings, to Sir Malcolm Campbell's two-seater Bugatti Type 37 and an undamaged 1967 Lotus 47 racing car.
But it was the petite proportions of a 1950 Ferrari 166 MM Barchetta that beat them all to the 'Best of Show' title. Heading straight to the top of our 'I Want One' list, this little two-seater was one of just 25 ever made and despite its rarity it still continues to do what it was originally built for - racing. The female half of its delightful owners, Dudley and Sally Mason, has powered it through many Mille Miglia as well as various races in the Ferrari Shell Challenge. They are as fond of their 166 as parents to a newborn though they're the first to admit the car's not as pampered as it could be - and that's a massive part of the machine's charm.
Its natural simplicity is also something that bewitched the judges. The exterior is as smooth as a secondhand soap bar and the interior has just enough instruments to get on with the job of driving it, and no more.
Infact, the shape was so arresting the car also took glory in the design category - as judged by the creative geniuses of Peter Stevens (McLaren F1) and Marek Reichman (Aston Martin One-77).
Just goes to show that in the six decades from the 166 MM to the F12, Ferrari's sparkle hasn't faded.
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