Popping your Ferrari cherry will always be a memorable experience.
Up until this week, my sole experience of a prancing horse was a well-used Ferrari F430 manual track car, that felt as used as its 94,000 miles hinted at.
Our four-seater Fezza was always going to offer a more opulent, rounded experience. Departing Autocar Towers in Teddington on Thursday afternoon, I confess to being slightly nervous of the car that measures 4.9m-long and 1.9m-wide. But that quickly evaporated once on the move – the FF is comically docile and easy to drive around town.
I’d read a lot on the Ferrari FF’s ability to cross countries at an impressive rate of knots. However, it’s not until you experience the car for yourself with its stonking 651bhp 6.3-litre normally aspirated V12 motor, four-wheel drive, 91-litre fuel tank, seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and practical four-seat layout that you realise how exceptional it really is.
Before I knew it, the three-and-a-half hour drive to Cholmondeley Castle in Cheshire had been despatched and I arrived at the event Thursday evening completely fresh with no aches, but dilated pupils from that booming V12 motor.
A slight hiccup Friday morning when the scrutineers failed my crash helmet (and no spare being available) meant the possibility of not being allowed on the course. That could not happen and I had to find a way by any means necessary.
There’s a wonderful sense of camaraderie at the Pageant of Power, with fellow drivers genuinely going out of their way to help me. All-round top guy Ric Wood (owner of that Astra DTM V8 touring car) and his team of engineers put me in touch with a motorsport shop 10 miles down the road that stocked MSA-approved crash helmets. I thanked the racing gods.
The kind gents at Advantage Motorsport in Tattenhall sourced me the right-sized helmet over the phone and a quick dash there-and-back found me back on the start line 40 minutes later (thanks guys).
I’d done as much homework on the track as possible (reading Robbie Kerr’s track guide) and even walked the 1.2-mile course. However, it’s not until you’re on the start line staring down the narrow path to the first bridge that you realise this sprint course brings a whole new meaning to ‘threading a needle’. Especially in the FF.
During my debut Friday run I left the Ferrari’s ‘box in auto mode and the Manettino stability control in ‘Sport’ which allows a bit of slippage and play. Six-to-seven tenths was the aim here, just getting a feel for the track and dealing with the looming pressure of collecting my P45 from my desk on Monday morning if I binned the car.
After launching off the line and threading through the first bridge (a slight off-camber right-hander) the long straight and crowds lining it proved too inviting to ignore; I gunned it flat, registering 112mph before losing my bearings and breaking point.
Cue lock-up of the brakes into turn 3, moderate tank-slapper and too much speed carried into the ultra-sharp double left-hander. A lot of understeer with the cold tyres made itself known as that P45 slip flashed before me. Thankfully the FF gained grip at the last millisecond and I only lost some time, rather than a wing mirror, my pride or worse…
I piped down for the rest of the lap, while navigating the tight, tricky sections of turns seven to 11 (with trees sitting a handful of feet on the outside) and then pushed the FF flat for the final short straight over the bridge, crossing the finish line at 7800rpm in second gear. Lessons learned for the rest of the weekend’s stints.
Saturday gave me three runs, which all went much smoother than Friday’s wild antics. The final run of the day was in damp conditions, due to the heavens opening mid-afternoon for 30 minutes or so.
Even still, at seven-tenths the Ferrari’s four-wheel drive and hugely communicative steering and chassis helped keep everything in check, with only brief snaking on the exits of bends under full throttle in second. Manettino setting still in its second-lowest ‘Sport’ mode.
Sunday’s three runs were much the same as Saturday. I was more consistent with my braking points before the double-left hander of turns four and five at the end of the first straight – reaching the limiter in third, just snatching fourth and nudging 115mph before getting on the brakes hard.
I pushed it more than before for my final stint on Sunday. Up until this point, I’d been slightly hesitant of taking the second and final bridge 100 percent flat; lifting for a split-second before the bridge, due to visions of nose-diving and splitting an oil sump. But after advice from a couple of veterans and realising how planted the FF had been up to this point I thought I’d go for it. The result is above.
Its seven-speed dual clutch gearbox also made my life a lot easier, which I’d been using in manual mode since Saturday. As much as I love a sweet manual ‘box, the fact is the Ferrari’s dual-clutcher allowed me to brake later into bends, carry more speed through them, swap cogs up-and-down much quicker and concentrate on my lines more than if I’d been stirring a manual and trying (failing) to heel-toe.
The reaction of this ‘box is mind-blowing. Flick the left paddle twice as quickly as you can and you’ve gone from fourth to second with perfect rev-matching seamlessly. It’s addictive.
The Fezza was also immensely stable on the long, bumpy first straight. One of my passengers, who was piloting the Audi Quattro S1 group B rally car, couldn’t believe how the FF was ironing out the bumps which unsettled cars and claimed a few victims on the Friday and Saturday.
So with this year’s Cholmondeley Pageant of Power winding down it was time to pack my gear into the FF (with ease) and waft down the M42/M40/M25 at the speed limit with the needle registering 2200rpm in seventh.
I’d be amazed if there was another legit four-seater at Cholmondeley that exceeded 115mph on the straight in the hands of a novice, while transporting its driver to-and-from the festival in soothing comfort, with three days’ worth of luggage in the boot.
In short, the Ferrari FF is the ultimate mile-muncher.