F THE many incredible cars to come out of Maranello in recent years, the F12tdf makes a good case for being the most fascinating.
First of all, there’s that name, recalling one of Ferrari’s most famous V12 GTs, the 250 Tour de France of the 1950s, which paved the way for some seminal front-engined Ferrari sports racers, including the legendary 250 SWB and original GTO.
Happily, the 250tdf’s combination of track ability and street civility is the exact same philosophy that underpins its F12 namesake.
From the front, the twin vents in place of one single central cut-out and almost-wraparound front bumper are clear giveaways that this is no ordinary F12. Compare the side window shape of the regular F12 with the tdf’s, and you’ll see they’re completely different. The tdf’s still features glass aft of the door, but this much smaller pane makes for a thicker C-pillar and a clear visual hint at the 250 and 275 V12s of the 1950s and 1960s.
These historic design references O are interesting, not least because Ferrari rarely dips a toe so overtly into retro territory. But, as with anything Ferrari does, there’s science behind the styling. The new rear deck shape, combined with active flaps in the rear diffuser, front winglets at the bumper ends and extended airbridge pieces on the fenders, creates a total of 230kg of downforce at 200km/h, a massive 107kg more than the F12 Berlinetta produces at the same speed.
Meanwhile, kerb weight has been decreased. The body structure is still fashioned from aluminium, but the front and rear bumpers are carbonfibre, as are the centre tunnel, interior door panels, exterior door sills and aerodynamic underbody panels. The upshot is a dry weight of 1415kg, some 110kg less than the Berlinetta.
You feel that difference when you tentatively push the right pedal into the carpet-free footwell for the first time.
Fundamentally, the tdf runs the same 6.3-litre V12 as the Berlinetta, but with some key differences. There’s a new air filter box and a bigger throttle valve, the length of the inlet ducts is continuously variable to maximise torque at all engine speeds, and the valves are now operated by racing-style solid lifters.
That’s enough to lift peak power to 574kW at a screaming 8500rpm, with a further 400rpm still to go before the redline. Torque? The headline stat is 705Nm at 6750rpm, with 80 per cent of that available from only 2500rpm. No wonder the tdf feels so effortlessly fast, the way a really great GT car should.
Effortless is the best way to describe Raffaele de Simone behind the wheel of any of the cars he’s helped hone. We’re out on track at Fiorano riding shotgun as Ferrari’s slightly-built test driver makes almost imperceptible nudges at the wheel. And just to rub it in, he’s chatting away blithely as he rubs out a 95 per cent pace lap.
But even he stops talking as we exit the right-hander following the bridge. That’s when he flings back the stable door and throws us towards the rapidly approaching hairpin, turning my stomach inside out. It really does feel that fast, even if the numbers say otherwise. Ferrari quotes 0-100kmh in 2.9sec and 200kmh in 7.9sec;
Unbelievable engine; chassis; performance
Rear-wheel steer needs learning
impressive improvements on the 3.1sec and 8.5sec of the Berlinetta, but still trumped by the sub-3sec and -7sec efforts of LaFerrari.
When I switch to the driver’s seat and roll out onto the track it feels no less outrageous, only now I’ve got all manner of other sensations to deal with. The throttle is outrageously sharp, unleashing a noise and thrust that reminds you no matter how fine Ferrari’s new turbocharged V8s are, they’re nothing compared with the company’s V12. Its sonorous yowl, linear, uninterrupted power delivery, lofty redline and jaw-slackening punch might well be perfect.
But what marks the tdf out as truly something different is the chassis, and Ferrari’s electrically-operated fourwheel steering system. The company calls it Passo Corto Virtuale, which translates as virtual short wheelbase, although in effect the four-wheelsteer system is actually mimicking the characteristics of a longer wheelbase.
Either way, you notice the changes at the sharp end long before you notice those at the rear. The steering is weightier, more communicative and pin-sharp, and at road speeds it’s almost impossible to breach the limits of the front tyres.
Mixing it with the tractors, trucks and battered minivans on the hills south of Maranello, you’re never really aware of the trickery going on behind you – the car just feels astonishingly agile on the way into tighter turns, and absolutely planted on the way out.
Even stringing a sequence of left-rights together, forcing the PCV to go through its full range of motion, the experience is entirely natural.
The ride is surprisingly firm, but this is an eminently useable road car, with a soundtrack that shrieks when you’re homing in on the 8900rpm limiter but settles to an unobtrusively refined hum when you need to eat freeway miles.
Back at Fiorano we get the chance to find out what this PCV system is really all about. Through the fast right-left combination of turns two and three, the levels of front grip are so incredible you find yourself actually unwinding lock on the exit of curves to let the car run out to the width of the track.
But when you push harder, instead of the slightly oversteery character of the standard F12, there’s real stability at the rear, the newfound traction allowing you to climb back on the gas much earlier.
Turn off the traction and stability control and things get more complicated. This is where the tdf feels most obviously different from its more prosaic sibling. I found myself trying to drive it how I would a regular F12, clumsily overcorrecting any little slide for the first couple of laps, almost fighting against the four-wheel steering’s efforts to straighten the car up. For the first time I can remember on a Ferrari launch, I came back to the pit box as confused as I was enthralled.
After another few laps, however, we started to gel. This is a car that responds to smoother, smaller inputs and rewards with blistering pace. Just as it took us time to acclimatise to the ultra-quick steering racks Ferrari ushered in with the 458, it takes time to adapt to PCV.
And I’m sure you’d love to put in that time just as much as I would. M