The what? The Ferrari The Ferrari? Or just LaFerrari? It's an odd one, for sure. Like so many wonderful Italian things, the name of this latest piece of Maranello magic doesn't quite work in English. In fact, technically speaking it doesn't even work in Italian. But what the hell: it is what it is, a limited edition 499-strong definitive statement from a company whose flagship cars have been nothing less than milestones in automotive evolution - think 1984's turbocharged 288 GTO, '87's carbon fibre F40, '95's F1-derived F50, and 2002's everything Enzo.
LaFerrari. We'll get the hang of it, and you will too. Here are the bits you need to memorise: the mid-mounted, direct injection 6.3-litre V12 is an evolution of the F12berlinetta's mighty unit, and it's hooked up to a dual-clutch gearbox and electric motor, whose main control unit sits on top of the 'box. A 120-cell, 60kg lithium ion battery pack is very tightly packaged under the seats in a Kevlar casing, and there are high-tension orange wires to isolate the high voltages that are generated. The V12 spins to 9250rpm and produces 790bhp; the electric motor adds the equivalent of another 160bhp. Yep, that's a total of 950bhp in a car that weighs around 1300kg dry (roughly the same as the Enzo). It also has a walloping 663lb ft of torques.
Performance? Intergalactic, as you'd expect: 0-62mph in under 3.0secs, 0-124mph in less than 7.0secs. That's insanely fast. LaFerrari also beats lazy old Enzo round Fiorano - that time-honoured benchmark of overall Ferrari awesomeness - by five whole seconds, to record a lap time under 1min 20secs. Less empirically, the LaFerrari should feel like nothing before it ever has: with the electric motor boosting low-end torque, the engineers were free to really play with the V12. Hence that stratospheric red-line.
This is the first time Ferrari has applied its HY-KERS to a production car - developed by the F1 guys at Gestione Sportiva - and it reduces emissions by 40 per cent, increases the V12's output by 10 per cent, recapturing kinetic energy usually lost under braking (even with the ABS at full tilt) and cornering to charge the batteries, and operates with an impressive 94 per cent energy efficiency. A second electric motor powers the car's ancillary systems.
Be in no doubt that Ferrari is keen to generate a ‘green' halo round this car, but the deal here remains profoundly V12-focused. ‘[Hybrid] is the best way to increase performance while reducing emissions,' Felisa told topgear.com last year. ‘We are interested in down-sizing [turbocharging], and in cylinder deactivation. But this is the best way of keeping the V12 engine architecture that Ferrari is very committed to. Reducing the car's weight is not sufficient alone to reduce emissions: to do that you must work on the powertrain. That said, hybrid for Ferrari is not just about reducing emissions, it is about enhancing the experience of our cars. Otherwise we risk losing their fundamental character.'
So while the McLaren P1, which has a real world 10-mile range on electric power only, Ferrari isn't bothered for LaFerrari. ‘We don't like the idea of an electric car because one of a Ferrari's main characteristics is the sound of its engine,' Felisa says. ‘We imagine that the system will see the car always mixing the two power sources at the same moment.' Note, however, that McLaren is claiming less then 200g/km CO2 emissions, while the LaFerrari is chucking out 330g/km, with the Mac making around 900bhp to the Fezza's 950. We're talking different sorts of colossally impressive bragging rights.
Here are a few other snippets. The V12 features an F1-derived variable geometry air intake system, uses an oil pump whose capacity varies depending on g loads, and has a main shaft with aerodynamically shaped counter weights that are 19 per cent lighter than before. Its compression ratio is a thrillingly high 13.5:1, and the overall centre of gravity has been reduced by 35mm. There are tilted, side-mounted radiators.
Then there's the car's tub. Ferrari reckons aluminium is the right stuff elsewhere in its range, but this far up the food chain it's got to be carbon fibre. Not just any old carbon fibre, though, and certainly not the easier-to-produce resin transfer moulding (RTM) type or pre-preg stuff used by its rivals. No, LaFerrari uses four different types of carbon fibre, all labour-intensively hand-laminated before being cured in the GES F1 autoclave. The main bit of the chassis is T800 carbon, strengthened with a uni-directional adhesive called T800UD. The structural bits below that use another type of carbon fibre, which has extra high tensile strength. The doors are made of T1000 carbon fibre, which has phenomenal impact-absorbing properties, and is used in the nose-cone of Ferrari's F1 cars. The suspension pick-ups are part of the tub's structure, as are the seats.
As Carmelo Lo Faro, a Vice President at Cytec Engineered Materials, Ferrari's partner in this carbon fibre adventure, told TopGear.com, the aim is to use the right sort of material, in the right thickness, according to its location in the chassis and performance requirements. ‘We are talking about a technology that is beyond what you currently find in commercial aerospace, and is used only in the latest fighter jets. In fact, the new Ferrari features a type of carbon fibre that is used in the nuclear industry to manufacture the centrifuges that uranium is enriched in.'
Less explosive but still relevant to Ferrari fans is the news that this is the first car to be designed and developed entirely in-house. You'll look in vain for Pininfarina badges on that remarkable body, closing a significant chapter in the marque's history. But given that Ferrari's design director Flavio Manzoni is one of the car industry's most exceptional talents, let's not shed too many tears. He and his team have once again managed to create a car that prevents the unavoidable aerodynamic emphasis and immense packaging challenges from wringing all the beauty from the car's form.
Much of LaFerrari's active aero - from the winglets at the front to the retractable rear wing and spoiler - is derived from the FXX programme, and the body is full of vents, slats and intakes that hustle the air into cooling and generating downforce, depending on speed and road or track condition. In fact, the car runs in two different configurations: High Downforce (HD), or Low Downforce (LD). So LaFerrari should be massively fast but also unbelievably stable and balanced, while smuggling its aero dynamism in a package that looks like a classic Prancing Horse rather than an unedifying Trojan one. This is a truly stunning looking car.
It's also worth finding a stepladder and checking this thing out from above. The fighter jet analogy is a bit worn-out, but LaFerrari's all-black cockpit has an amazing forward-thrustiness. You enter through dramatic wing doors, and slide down low into a seat that will be shaped to suit the driver, and is part of the tub rather than being a separate fixture. It's about time someone went that route. The brake and throttle pedal adjust, and the overall feel is one of intensely focused comfort, just as you'd find if you were lucky enough to own your own F1 car (Alonso and Massa apparently had a hand in the LaFerrari's design).
The dash is a fantastic looking swoop of carbon fibre, with minimal instrumentation controlling the expected but still awesome electronic architecture - E-diff and stability control - that Ferrari has elevated to an art form since pioneering it back in 2004's F430. In the LaFerrari, this set-up now also incorporates the active aero and HY-KERS. To give one example, the hybrid bit of the powertrain keeps the V12's revs high during cornering to maximise exit speeds. The brakes are the latest Brembo carbon-ceramics, there are magnetic dampers, and the car uses bespoke new Pirelli P Zeroes.
Italian politics might be an unholy mess, and the Vatican is in disarray. Thankfully, the decade-long purple patch of Italy's premier car company shows no sign of ending. LaFerrari. Daft name, truly definitive car.