Darryl Kerrigan’s “Tell him he’s dreamin’” scene from The Castle was the first thing I was expecting to hear from Ferrari Australia when I asked to drive a Ferrari FF from Maranello to Monte Carlo for the 2014 Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix.
Much to my surprise, the company gave the idea two thumbs up and I was all set. To ensure that the experience was as comprehensive as humanly possible, I engineered a drive route from Maranello, through the iconic Cisa Pass and around the coast to France and then Monaco.
As I rolled into the Historic Gate entrance of Ferrari’s Maranello headquarters, I was prepping myself to trade the rented white Skoda Yeti for the Rosso Mugello Ferrari FF parked just behind the security gate. The lady manning the security gate didn’t understand anything I was saying. The confusion was resolved when I pointed at the FF parked directly behind her.
While waiting for Ferrari’s Public Relations manager to arrive at reception, I had a look around the amazing facility. Maranello is a small town situated just outside Modena in northern Italy. The locals don’t even bat an eyelid as all types of Ferraris drive past.
Almost all of the town’s restaurants, cafes and hotels offer some kind of Ferrari theming. It’s fitting when you consider the rich heritage and labour workforce situated in Maranello.
After signing no paperwork, or showing any identification, I hopped in the FF and set off — we Australians must look very trustworthy.
The $625,000 Ferrari FF was launched in 2011 and debuted with Ferrari’s first all-wheel-drive system. Featuring a mammoth 6.3-litre naturally aspirated V12 engine, the Ferrari FF manages to produce 486kW of power and 683Nm of torque. Claimed fuel consumption is what you would expect for an engine of this size, at 15.4L/100km.
Inside the cabin, there is a high level of luxury and attention to detail. It feels leaps and bounds ahead of the last Ferrari I drove (an F430 Spider) in terms of quality and interior fit and finish.
In pictures, some people think this 4.9m grand tourer doesn’t look all that special. In person, it’s a completely different story. Sculpted and angular lines work with sweeping headlights and big wheels to define it as none other than a Ferrari.
The rear end’s sudden downward taper allows two passengers to sit comfortably in the back seat. But, like all other Ferrari’s, the FF is best sampled in the driver’s seat.
The epic journey commences from the Historic Gate at Ferrari in Maranello before weaving on to the A1 motorway, which leads to Milan. If you haven’t been to Italy for a while, you’ll find out (like I did) that the A1 motorway (along with some other motorways) features an average speed camera system called the Tutor.
The Tutor system calculates your average speed over a set distance to see if you have been speeding. It’s made confusing because the locals travel well in excess of the 130km/h speed limit between Tutor zones, often because they are exiting before the next camera. If you try to keep up with them, you can find yourself attracting the wrong type of attention.
Thankfully, our journey to the Cisa Pass sees us exiting for the A15 just after Parma, meaning we only have to contend with regular instantaneous speed cameras from here on in.
The A15 leads to the seaside town of La Spezia, but the part we are interested in veers off near Fornovo di Taro and descends toward an iconic stretch of road called the Cisa Pass.
Think corners, lots of corners. That’s the best way to describe the almost endless set of winding roads that make up the Cisa Pass. Mountains and picturesque scenery flank varying grades of tarmac as locals go about their daily business.
It’s in this setting that the all-wheel-drive system underpinning the Ferrari FF really shines. Unlike a conventional all-wheel-drive system, the FF drivetrain utilises two gearboxes (one for the front wheels and one for the rear). Geared six percent longer than the rear gearbox, the front gearbox features two forward gears and one reverse gear.
This means that the front gearbox’s first and second gears cover the torque distribution while the rear gearbox is in first/second and third/fourth gears respectively.
That makes the Ferrari FF an all-wheel-drive vehicle in first to fourth gears and rear-wheel-drive in fifth to seventh gears. The logic behind this madness comes down to weight saving, with the all-wheel-drive system weighing in at less than half that of a conventional all-paw supercar.
With so much torque available, tight corners and hard acceleration can comfortably take place in second gear. The direct steering and sharp throttle response allows the driver to really get stuck into the throttle early and exit the corner with gusto.
The added surety of all-wheel-drive is most evident on sweeping bends where a front-engine rear-wheel-drive supercar would normally try to break into oversteer.
Braking on downhill stretches of the Cisa Pass was carefree thanks to Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes that measure 398mm up front and 360mm at the rear. The mammoth stoppers are virtually fade free thanks to their carbon-ceramic and cross-drilled construction.
Steering wheel mounted paddle shifters are linked to the FF’s seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The lightning fast gearbox works well with the big V12 engine and features a launch control mode to extract the most from a standing start.
If you plan on attacking the Cisa Pass in your favourite sports car, be mindful of the small towns you enter along the way. They are filled with kids, animals and locals and more often than not have fixed speed cameras.
After passing through La Spezia, it’s mainly 130km/h highway driving around the coast to the French border. This is where the Ferrari FF is in its prime. The suspension is incredibly forgiving and comfortable on stretches of highway. So much so that the other half was able to sit in the back and watch a movie while I navigated the endless set of tunnels.
It’s not a far stretch to comfortably seat four adults in the FF. The rear seats are built to cacoon passengers and offer ample headroom to sit back and relax. Legroom can be a little tight, but it’s not to the point of requiring amputation to fit in.
An incredible option fitted to the test vehicle was a panoramic glass roof. Unlike conventional cars where the roof stretches half way or three quarters of the way, the FF’s roof is literally all glass. Sitting in the back and looking through the roof while passing through a forest or mountain range is a unique experience.
Speaking of unique experiences, entering Monte Carlo during the Grand Prix weekend is pure lunacy. The number of exotic cars and opulent wealth is staggering.
The FF stood out nicely and received a great deal of attention. In fact, the only reason I snagged a photo of the FF anywhere near Casino de Monte-Carlo was because I told the security guard manning the gate that I was there to see Daniel Ricciardo. No joke.
If you ever get the chance to drive from Maranello to Monaco, you must take on the Cisa Pass during your travels. It’s an incredible bucket list road that any car or motorbike enthusiast would enjoy.
The Ferrari FF is the ultimate GT car for this trip. Endless performance, a comfortable ride and enough luggage space for my wife’s clothes, it’s hard to ask for any more. Well, unless a return trip with the guys is on offer.
Click on the Photos tab to see more pictures from this epic drive. Photos by Paul Maric and Monaco Tourism Board.