Ferrari’s 812 Superfast is epic on the road, but just how fast is it around a track? We head to Anglesey to find out

ou know the score by now. Covered truck arrives at circuit, disgorges brand new Ferrari along with a set or three of tyres, a test driver and an engineer. This time it’s the turn of the 812 Superfast, which has been shipped from Maranello to north Wales for fast laps and filming at Anglesey’s Coastal Circuit.

This is my first time in the Superfast: quite an introduction to the most powerful front-engined Ferrari ever made. I’ve driven its predecessor, the F12, on a number of occasions – none of which led me to feel at any point that it could do with a bit more performance. Fortunately, Ferrari isn’t as easily pleased, which is why it built a new V12 engine (stroked from 6.3 to 6.5 litres), sharpened up the transmission and shortened its ratios, geeked-out over the electronics and chased additional downforce with no drag penalty. The result is an obscenely (some might say absurdly) potent flagship. In case you need reminding, peak power is 588kW, delivered at 8500rpm.

Ferrari is now offering Pirelli P Zero Corsas as a high-performance tyre option on the 812 and it’s no great surprise to find that our test car is running them.

Having Ferrari staff on hand may fuel the conspiracy theorists, but they are undeniably useful at divulging valuable snippets of info. For example, with limited time (and tyres) to get the job done, it’s good to know CT Off (traction control off, stability control active) is what the factory regards as the optimum dynamic setting, though on particular tracks Race (which offers some traction control) can confer a small advantage. When I mention ESC Off they just smile, shake their heads and say ‘‘smoke machine’’. We’ll save that for the video, then…

As with all these Big Beasts you have to manage the tyres when going for a lap time. With the 812 this means doing a steady lap to scrub the release agent from the rubber and bring the temperatures up gently. After a quick pit stop for the pressures to be dropped, it’s back out for a five-lap run: that’s to say an out-lap, three fliers and a slow in-lap. We can repeat the process twice on each set of tyres, beyond which point they’ve more than given their best in outright lap time terms.

We’ve grown used to Ferrari’s incredible application of technology to aero, engine, gearbox, brakes and chassis. Everything about its cars is cutting edge, and yet the 812 driving experience is so intense, requires serious concentration and demands the kind of time-honoured car control any handy driver from the last 50 or 60 years would recognise. In short, you need to be comfortable with more grunt than grip and a committed practitioner of career-critical oversteer.

With Ferrari’s digitalisation of driving dynamics there was a fear it would increasingly remove the driver from the equation. But the last few generations of its cars have become so potent, fast and agile that the technology has actually enriched the experience. For instance, much as I like a stick shift, I can’t imagine the Superfast with a manual gearbox, such is the rate at which it devours gears and romps through the revs. Likewise, CT Off gives you more than enough rope, but also offers very subtle interventions that not only assist you in getting the most from the car, but help you feel the optimum window within which the car wants to operate.

Don’t get me wrong, you can still light the rear tyres up and you really need to bring your A-game, but once you’ve felt some intervention you know that the car actually finds better drive if you squeeze into the throttle, balance the slide early and let the rear tyres just over-rotate rather than if you fizz and smoke ’em up like Catherine wheels.

The first flying lap of each batch is the quickest, when the tyres have that bit more bite and traction. It’s hard to know what we’re aiming for time-wise, because funnily enough we’ve never benchmarked a near-600kW, front-engined, rear-drive GT before, but at the beginning of the day the Ferrari crew (who one would suspect have run some kind of simulation) suggest 0.8sec shy of a 488 GTB would be a good effort. It proves to be a remarkably prescient target, for my best time is a 1:13.6 – you guessed it, precisely 0.8sec off the time I set in the 488 in very similar conditions last year.

With the 812, it’s very much the case that to go faster you have to drive slower. Not that it is at all ponderous (quite the opposite), but the biggest rewards come from being calm and controlled with your inputs, not trying to be the last of the late brakers or impatiently chasing the throttle. Hustle it, by all means, but bully it? No.

Consequently, you fight your urges as much as the Superfast itself. The trick is to allow the car time to work, making forceful yet measured braking that then lets you pick a clean, decisive line and apply the power in one measured squeeze of the throttle. Get scruffy on the way in and you’ll be tempted to get busy with the throttle to make up for lost tenths, which most likely unsettles the car and inevitably leads to a big bite of oversteer and a subsequent loss of drive.

Anglesey’s quicker corners – Turn 1 and the fourth-gear right-hander, Church – require a calm approach as it’s easy to agitate the 812 into oversteer if you have a greedy right foot. Tighter corners such as the Banking hairpin, Rocket or Peel need a split-second’s patience to let the front end bite, followed by more smooth but incisive throttle from apex to exit. Amazingly, there’s enough torque to use third gear through the former two, though second gear gives the ultimate punch.

The brakes are immensely powerful and entirely resistant to fade during our runs. The hardest braking zone is where you slow from 225km/h-plus on the approach to Rocket, as the line between getting the car stopped and running wide as the track plateaus is fine. Even on my best lap I don’t quite nail it, so there’s an easy tenth or two lost there.

Initially, you notice the individual effects of the agility-enhancing Virtual Short Wheelbase rear-wheel steering, Ferrari Peak Performance (which adjusts the steering wheel torque to indicate the approaching limit of grip) and Ferrari Power Oversteer (which also adjusts steering torque to suggest to the driver the correct inputs required to realign the car), but it doesn’t take long for everything to meld into one intense and immersive experience. One in which the 812 does a brilliant job of masking its size and weight.

It’s hard not to focus on the 812’s rampant power and its ability to overwhelm the rear tyres, but to do so trivialises a genuinely nuanced car. The way you can work with it to build a lap time proves it has feel and finesse. That said, be under no illusion: the powertrain and chassis technology here is nothing less than genuine hypercar hardware that just happens to be packed into a 1630kg front-engined supercar.

Despite the electrickery, it’s the 812’s mass and layout that ultimately dictates how much of that performance can be deployed and how much is converted into smoke, sweat and smiles. In an era increasingly defined by race-car levels of downforce and an obsession with lap times, cutting loose in the 812 Superfast is a celebration of excess and a lesson in good old-fashioned car control. It’s a monster, but my god it’s a magnificent one.

THE DATA

If you want to subject your 812 Superfast to the ultimate emergency start, then like an F1 driver trying to ‘switch on’ the tyres during the out lap before a banzai qualifier, you’ll need to build up to a full-bore launch.

First you need to be in second gear with around 2000rpm dialled in, at which point you floor the throttle. If there’s wheelspin – and there will be – you repeat the process until the traction is total, at which point you do the same again in first gear. With the tyres now warm and sticky, it’s time for launch control.

Tap the button on the transmission tunnel, hold the car on the brakes with your left foot (not too much pressure), then bury the throttle pedal with your right. Our first practice runs are dynamite, the 812 firing off the line with not even a hint of wheelspin before smashing through 100km/h in 3.0sec (Ferrari claims 2.9sec) and 160km/h in 5.9sec. However, by the time we come to record the full 0-240km/h test the already heady ambient temperature has risen significantly, which is never a good thing for extracting the maximum from any internal combustion engine. Still, the resulting 0-100km/h time is only a tenth behind our earlier effort, while 240km/h comes and goes in just 13.1sec.

Yet it’s arguably the Ferrari’s in-gear figures that really ram home the fantastic naturally aspirated V12’s flexibility and linear delivery. Pick a gear, any gear, and look at the times for each acceleration increment. What you’ll notice is that for every 30km/h sprint the Superfast needs more or less exactly the same short span of time, give or take a tenth here and there.

The carbon-ceramic brakes also deserve special mention, stopping the 812 10 times from 160km/h without fade or fuss and always with a firm pedal. In fact, they got better the more we used them, consistently stopping in the 81-metre range from the sixth run onwards. James Disdale

LAP TRACES

The traces show two very different ways of achieving a 1:13.6 lap. In red we have the 812 Superfast, in green the Mercedes-AMG GT R that we timed recently. The steepness of the Ferrari’s upward traces bears testimony to its extraordinary pace between the turns. Where the 430kW GT R tails off visibly above 160km/h, the 588kW Superfast is still going like a rocket. Even though the AMG’s minimum corner speeds are higher, the 812 claws back all the lost ground then powers on by. Just as impressive are its downward traces, which show it braking later from higher speeds despite being 75kg heavier. You can also see the moments of patience required in the turning phases, the AMG able to get on the power sooner and more decisively out of the slower turns, where the Ferrari needs to lose more speed and have a split-second to settle.

by Richard Meaden