What is it?
The problem with Ferrari launches is that hacks have to try doubly hard to remain objective.
Usually held in northern Italy, often at and around the factory, they treat you to superb and almost-always dry roads, the legendary Fiorano test track and, as if that weren’t sufficient, dinner at a restaurant called Montana, whose pasta alone constitutes reason enough to get on the plane. It’s hard not to feel at least tolerably well disposed towards a car presented in such circumstances.
Well, this one was going to be different. A diary clash meant I had to skip the Ferrari Roma main event in sun-scorched Italy back in August, so if we were to meet at all in 2020, it would be in December in southeast England, where the roads could be guaranteed to be busy, the weather as wet as it was cold and lunch a sandwich in a bag.
Actually, I wasn’t sad at all. Like most people, I’m not knocked out by the idea of spending a couple of hours at 35,000ft in a thin aluminium tube in the company of a few hundred strangers right now, and the prospect of being introduced to a brand-new Ferrari in the all too real world was rather compelling: if the Roma could find a way of working here, it would work pretty much anywhere. This was an away game for Ferrari, and I wondered if it would show.
Around Goodwood, where I drove it for the very first time, it most certainly did. Any rear-drive car with over 600bhp is likely to keep you busy on a soaking, not-far-off-freezing track, but when that track is one that combines fast and fear like no other in the land, you had better have your wits about you. Or, alternatively, your safety systems on.
These days, Ferrari’s traction and stability controls are as good as you’ll find, and if you keep the manettino controller in either Wet or Comfort mode, that’s what you’ll find out: the Roma circulates the track very cleanly and rather slowly, the electronics anticipating slip and shutting it down before it has a chance to develop. In Sport mode, it’s rather unsatisfactory, because it suggests it’s going to allow the car to yaw a little but then doesn’t allow it.
So you put it into Race mode and are instantly busier than you would ever want to be in a car and on a track like this. In extremis, it did seem able to step in and save you from yourself, but the earth banks are very close at Goodwood and wet grass so slippery that once you’ve left the track, you seem to accelerate towards the scene of your accident, so I didn’t pursue the matter further.
Once I had discovered that it would spin its wheels in fifth gear, I concluded that there wasn’t much more to be learned here other than how one might reduce by one the global Roma population, so I gave up the track work and headed out onto the public road instead.
And here, once I had realised that you need to press the manettino to access the Bumpy Road mode so essential to progress on British back roads, I continued my search for a still unanswered question.