Malcolm Gladwell famously posited that to be a master in your field, you need to spend 10,000 hours practicing your craft. When it comes to perfecting front-engine, V12-powered two-seaters, Ferrari probably passed the requisite 10,000 hour mark sometime around 1973, when the Daytona stalked the streets. The peril inherent in sustained success is that it can create an echo chamber of cheerleading and backslapping that warps one's perspective, subsuming the healthy self-criticism that helped foment excellence in the first place.
This happens all the time — to bands, to movie studios and yes, to car companies. But from my drive of the Ferrari F12berlinetta, I'm pleased to say it hasn't yet happened to Ferrari. Every time we think they're just cruising —h ell, that they might've earned a breather —Ferrari unveils another rolling superlative generator.
For instance, Ferrari's never built a road car with 700 hp, so that surely would've been enough to blow people's minds. The F12 has 730 hp, out of 6.3 naturally aspirated liters, with no turbos. You get the idea they're not leaving anything on the table, and I respect that immensely.
The F12 is so strong that its 0-60 mph time is almost irrelevant. It's 3.1 seconds, incidentally, but that's basically at the traction-limited edge of what can be accomplished with a front-engine, rear-drive car. The more telling number is the 0-124 mph time, which is a mere 8.5 seconds. Think about that for a moment. Count to nine and imagine you just went from a standstill to more than 125 mph. If that sounds like it might be a stat belonging to the fastest Ferrari ever, you're correct. The F12 laps the Fiorano test track in one minute, 23 seconds, which is two seconds faster than the Enzo (or 458 Italia, for that matter). The F12 tops out at 211 mph. It is the meanest car yet from a company that was a legend long before an F40 poster graced my bedroom wall.
The F12 silhouette is tidy and elegant, but the details are concept-car cool, particularly the "aero bridge" that directs air from the hood down to the flanks of the car. Active brake ducts in the lower grille remain closed to limit drag, opening only when the brakes need a breather. There are no wild wings. In fact, you might even be able to avoid undue attention from the police if you ordered an F12 in a restrained color like silver. Maybe. Given my druthers, I'd love to see a car like this with a mid-engine setup, but I understand they're working on that.
The 6.3-liter V-12 is a shrieking masterpiece, its fuel cutoff set for a frenetic 8,700 rpm. You'd think that in an all-aluminum car that weighs 3,594 lbs., 730 hp would be neigh uncontrollable. But the F12 is docile; its low center of gravity and 46 percent to 54 percent front-rear weight distribution making it far more balanced and accessible than you'd expect. If an F12 ends up wrapped around a phone pole just outside a Ferrari dealership, it won't be the car's fault.
I got my F12 wheel time in Maranello, and midway through the day I decided to make it my mission to give an Italian person a ride in it. This is the kind of car you want to share, especially with its countrymen. In the immediate environs of the factory, citizens are a bit jaded toward Ferraris, but 20 minutes out in the countryside you get the same reception you would anywhere else — which is to say, quiet reverence mixed with a dash of the awe and excitement normally reserved for UFO sightings.
Up in the hills outside Maranello, at a roadside restaurant overlooking a verdant valley, I parked and let the F12 soak up some attention. I somehow managed to convince a nice restaurateur named Giacomo to strap into the passenger seat with a mad American behind the wheel, and we alit to set a new lap record for the road that passes his establishment.
Giacomo didn't speak much English and I speak little Italian, but when we got out of the car (a couple of launch-control starts later), he pointed to his arm to indicate goosebumps. I understood that. I had them too.