I was advised to be in the Supercar paddock before noon to be in with a chance of grabbing a passenger ride up the hill at Goodwood in a Ferrari F12 berlinetta, the latest and best, so naturally I was there half an hour early. You don’t pass up an opportunity like this unless you are being wheeled into the operating theatre on a trolley, or if your leg is in plaster, because then you couldn’t get into the car anyway.
So there I was, waiting, because there was still a chance it could all fall through, but at 12h00 the call came through for the drivers and passengers to saddle up and make their way down to the holding paddock. The drive down there was, I imagine, rather like a goldfish swimming around in a goldfish bowl staring out at a group of excited people who are all staring back at him. I was given the thumbs up, waves, claps, had photos taken of the car by everyone, and eventually arrived in the holding area…and waited…for 45 minutes. Temperatures were up around the 30°C mark, so shady areas were much sought after.
Before setting off on our run, I must first tell you about this car. The Ferrari F12 berlinetta is Ferrari’s latest and most powerful front-engined sports car yet. It is powered by a 6.3-litre V12 engine producing a mighty 730bhp, enough to pull a battleship, and is clothed in an understated, sweeping design with a long-bonnet and abrupt Kamm rear end. The F12 boasts almost 120 more horses under the bonnet, a reduction of around 60kg in weight, and a hike of more than £27,000 over its predecessor, the 599GTB. But the F12 is a far more aggressive looking vehicle, it has a presence that says, “Get out of the way, I’m coming through.”
We finally got the call to start engines, and the red Ferrari supercar rolled forward, out of the holding paddock and towards the road leading down the start line, past lines of ogling fans and enthusiasts. This is a slow procession down to the start line, where we were held again for around 20 minutes while the Vulcan bomber did its fly past, then we finally began our slow crawl to the line. All the while our driver, in an effort to give the crowd something to cheer about – he tells them, “Listen to this (revs loudly), all the other cars have four cylinders too few,” in a light-hearted jibe at the mere V8s in the line-up – leaving a gap between our car and the Mercedes C63 AMG in front, he launched the F12 forward, braking sharply. The crowds love it, and so do we!!
Rolling up to the start, I am told to keep my camera on the floor, “no photographs” – I am totally disappointed, but soon see why. It is necessary here to take a step back to the 2008 Festival of Speed, when I was given a ride up the hill in a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, one of the cars that had then just crossed the Indian sub-continent. I remember the ride as being exhilarating, fast, a high moment of the event and something that I won’t forget. The F12 was about to blow that memory away altogether.
The starter drops his hand and we’re away, the F12 scrabbling for grip, snaking a little this way, then that way, because Pat had turned off the launch control making the start that much more dramatic – it’s all for the crowds, you see. This baby will do the 0-62mph sprint in just 3.1 seconds, so the first corner is there in a flash, a slight lift and then it is foot down again for 100 yards up to the second corner which is more of a bend as the exit is not as sharp. The dash up to the Bridge and Molecomb is just a blur as the F12 ramps up the speed at an astonishing space, words almost cannot describe the acceleration which is closer to a Formula 1 car than anything else. This is where we reached our fastest speed on the run, 131mph (!!), and that is down to pure acceleration rather than having a good long run to build up the speed. Our driver apologised as the top speed was down on the 134mph he got the day before, but hey…who is complaining about 3mph?
A quick dab on the big brakes scrubs off the speed, a quick turn in and we’re through the corner safely and on up to the Wall…again the trees and the crowds blend to become one long kaleidoscope of colour. We lift slightly for the right hander at the Wall, then close to the bales on the left (so close in fact that I am sure there is some red paint on one of them) as our man floors it to the finish line …and beyond. From the finish line to the assembly paddock at the top of the hill is a long straight section, almost too long, but this is to cater for the many older race cars that depend on drum brakes to slow them, the Ferrari however needs only a short distance to bring it from these heady speeds down to a complete stop.
Just as I am beginning to get into the swing of the sprint, it’s all over, and we crawl around the loop at the top paddock ready for the slow return downhill. Back in 2008 when I did my run in the 612 Scaglietti, the driver had to put a wedge under the back wheel of the car to prevent it from running forward on the slope. He told me that while Ferrari made cars that went very fast, they tended not to focus on such simple things as a handbrake which was really only needed when the car was stationary. The F12 has an electric handbrake (with hill hold), which is rock solid, so we didn’t need to carry around a block of wood in the car for this run!
The wait at the top of the hill turned into a two-hour session, but this at least allowed us to have some lunch because by the time I eventually got back down to the media centre at 15h45, I would have missed that perk. The marathon wait was in the blazing heat, as the officials needed to let three other groups of cars to come up the hill in order to finish on time at the end of the day. This allowed me time to wander around and check out all the very serious machinery and to talk to colleagues and other drivers. I cornered Derek Bell for a quick word, he had just driven the Continental GT Speed Convertible up the hill. Derek is such an easy-going person and having written the foreword for one of my books, we chat quite regularly at this and other similar events. Christian Horner was just behind in an Infiniti, and I could go on names-dropping, but that isn’t the point, it is just a special event and opportunity to meet some of the ‘greats’.
Our run down the hill was ‘show-off’ time, being turned deliberately into a slow dawdle interspersed with lots of loud revving, standing starts that left long black strips of rubber and plenty of smoky tyres. It’s all about the spectacle and most importantly, to show the kids all the great cars – one young boy commented that our car ‘must have lots of horsepower’, to which Pat replied that it had 730 horsepower. I thought the little boy’s eyes were going to pop right out of their sockets, but that is the pleasure of it all.
Roll on 2014 please Lord March!!