Any Ferrari is special, and driving one, whatever its vintage, is an experience to savor. That said, some Ferraris are unquestionably more special than others—particularly this one. Even in the company of Maranello’s earlier supercars, the legendary 288 GTO, F40, F50 and Enzo, the LaFerrari (production will be limited to 499 units, and all are already sold) represents a new high-water mark in Maranello’s road-car history.
To discover the origins of what was known as the F150 project, before Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo bestowed on it the awkward name (which translates from Italian as “TheFerrari”) that even Maranello insiders dislike, cast your mind back to 2007. That’s when Ferrari unveiled a strange, non-running concept that looked like a 7/8-scale Enzo. Though we didn’t know it at the time, the Mille Chili (for its 1,000-kilogram weight) hybrid concept was a sneak preview at the makeup of Ferrari’s fifth supercar—or, perhaps, its first hypercar.
More clues arrived in March 2010, when the 599-based HY-KERS was shown at the Geneva Auto Show [“Ferrari’s HY-HORSE,” FORZA #102]. Later that year, Ferrari’s test team began experimenting with a trio of 599 mules, then switched to the first real LaFerrari prototypes the following summer.
Ferrari’s goal was to produce a supercar that was faster and more fuel-efficient than its Enzo predecessor, as well as no bigger and no heavier. In addition, it had to be easy to climb into and have enough space for two people wearing racing helmets. Finally, it had to have a V12; that was never in doubt.
If this list sounds like the recipe for a mildly updated Enzo, the reality is much more exciting. With the LaFerrari, Maranello has incorporated everything it has learned in the last decade about active aerodynamics, hybrid technology, carbon-fiber construction and the crucial software that marries the gearbox, traction control and electronic differential.
THERE’S NO HINT of these technological advances visible on the LaFerrari that awaits me, its ocean-deep red paint glimmering in the spring sunshine, at Ferrari’s Fiorano test track. A switch hidden from view, but easily felt on the underside of the door scallop, unlatches the door. This then swings out and upwards via a hinge at the base of the A-pillar, revealing the carbon-fiber chassis in all its glory. Ferrari is adamant that lightweight, easily repairable aluminum remains the right choice of materials for its series-production cars (for now, at least), but the LaFerrari is made of carbon fiber—and not the everyday Resin Transfer Molding (RTM) composites used by other manufacturers, but the costly, time-consuming Formula 1-style material.