Vettel challenges Ferrari claims over contract decision

Sebastian Vettel has challenged Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto’s claim that the COVID-19 crisis was the trigger for the change of philosophy that led to his contract not being renewed.

Binotto said ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix that while Vettel’s was Ferrari’s first choice, the pandemic led the Maranello squad to change its preferences.

“I think the virus and pandemic situation, which changed the entire world, not only our motorsport, our F1,” he said.

“The budget cap has been changed by quite a lot, and is a lot more strict, the regulations have been postponed from ’21 to ’22, which somehow was something important for us.

“So during the shutdown as Ferrari we had to eventually reconsider our position.” 

When questioned for the first time on Ferrari’s decision to drop him for 2021, Vettel revealed last week that the news came in a “surprise” phone call from Binotto.

“Yes, that’s what I said,” Vettel told ServusTV when asked to clarify. “I think that the last five years haven’t brought what I think was the goal from both sides. Still, I think that it would have been an option to continue and work on the goal in any case.

“And that had been communicated in the same way. I was told that we want to continue. Until I got a phone call out of nowhere, when I was told that there would be no offer, that there would be no future.

“That surprised me at first. The conditions with corona and so on – I don’t want to harp on it now, but I don’t think they’ll be that decisive.

“There were also some reports that we could not agree on the financial aspects. So that was not an issue at all and would not have been an issue.

“If you have been in Formula 1 for so long and you’ve been lucky enough to be so successful and on the other hand gain a certain independence, that would certainly not have been an obstacle, which is why it was surprising.

“But well, the decision as it is, I don’t have a problem with it and I accept it as it is, but I’m still trying to do my job this year and do a better job than yesterday and do the best for the team to bring this to a good end.”

Vettel insisted that his future remain plans remain open, but he made it clear that he wants to continue to race in the right environment.

“Honestly, I haven’t made a decision yet, and I don’t know yet for myself either. What’s important, of course, is to find an environment that fits. I have enjoyed the last five years very much in many respects, but the last five years have also taken a lot of energy.

“The goal at that time was to rebuild the team. And certainly both sides have tried everything. But at the end of the day we failed on both sides, because the title didn’t come. That was the big goal. Now this is a new situation for me. It will be important for me to find something that is good for me and fun. I think that is a very important thing.

“As I mentioned earlier, the financial aspect is not at all in the foreground. And of course I am still very ambitious, motorsport is my life. I don’t know any other way, except the last three months it’s been a little different.

“But I wouldn’t really want to miss it. With the right job and the right place I would still feel very much at home in a Formula 1 car. I think the next few weeks, months, will shed light – also for myself – on what is possible, and what I want to do.”

Vettel said that he made contact with Red Bull’s Helmut Marko immediately after he received the call from Binotto.

“I called him right after the decision, but not to ask, ‘Helmut, do you have a place?’, but because I get along very well with him and he has been a confidant for years.

“I asked him for advice. I described the situation to him as it is. He’s known for putting his heart on his sleeve. And then I spoke to him. What will come out in the end remains to be seen. The talks in this regard are of my own making.”

Asked about the option of Mercedes, he suggested that it was unlikely that the Brackley team would have a seat for him.

“I think that the team, as it is currently driving, is very happy and is doing very well. The last few years prove that right. I can understand that they want to stick with it. No decision has been made in this respect yet. In theory, both places are still free. But is clear that Lewis can stay if he wants to. And the same goes, after yesterday, for Valtteri.”

He conceded that there were three options, namely to find a seat for 2021, take a year out and return in 2022, or stop for good.

“I think you have to – at least that’s how my head works – I think if you make the decision to close the door, you shouldn’t make it in such a way that you have the hope to open it again. Unless it is clear from the outset.

“I believe that you must then be ready for yourself to be ready to keep the door closed. In other words: if it does not open, for whatever reason, then one should not regret the decision.”


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Ferrari: No rule breach or we'd have been DSQed

Ferrari will not permit the FIA to release details of their secret engine agreement, adamant it falls under “intellectual property protection”.

Last season rivals questioned the legality of Ferrari’s power unit, resulting in a drawn out investigation and several Technical Directives being issued by motorsport’s governing body.

Those went some way towards slowing Ferrari’s pace, leading Max Verstappen to proclaim that’s what happens when you cheat.

Ferrari has always maintained its innocence.

That, though, has yet to be determined by rivals who have been kept in the dark as to what exactly the FIA discovered in its investigation.

Instead of releasing details, the FIA announced in February ‘that, after thorough technical investigations, it has concluded its analysis of the operation of the Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 power unit and reached a settlement with the team. The specifics of the agreement will remain between the parties.’

Rivals have since demanded details, even going as far as to threaten legal action, neither of which has yet taken place.

Speaking to the media in Austria, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner says he is not willing to drop the matter.

“Look, it does sit uncomfortably that there is an agreement that has been entered into about the legality and conformity of a car,” he said.

“That immediately draws you to think what is in that agreement? What does it comprise of because obviously in our minds a car is either legal or illegal?

“Now obviously questions have been raised with the FIA; the FIA have said they would be happy to disclose that document but of course they need the clearance from the other signatories so obviously it does nothing but promote suspicion when there are private agreements about legality and conformity so the healthiest thing would be to get it on the table so everybody sees what it comprised of.

“The FIA have said they are willing to do that, it would be great if Ferrari were prepared do the same so it puts it all to bed.”

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Mercedes’ Toto Wolff backed the call for transparency.

“In this day and age, transparency is extremely important and good governance – it’s extremely important,” he said. “And it may well have been good governance but if you don’t know, it’s difficult to judge so in the position that we are in is that we are monitoring the situation. We are not happy about last year.

“It has stretched all of us to a point to be competitive against Ferrari where it was difficult to cope and therefore let’s wait and see how the season starts and gets going and we will then reassess for ourselves and probably with the other guys who were upset.”

Ferrari, however, will not be releasing any details nor will the Scuderia give the FIA permission to do so.

Asked whether Ferrari is open to allieving Ferrari’s concerns, team boss Mattia Binotto replied: “The answer is quite straightforward. First, there was no clear breach of the regulations. Otherwise we would have been disqualified.

“The reason we don’t want to open is simply because whatever we would need to explain is IP, intellectual property to our project, to our power unit and no one in the paddock would be happy to release information on their design and their projects.

“It’s IP, it’s confidentiality, it’s intellectual property protection and that’s the reason why we are not keen to do it.”

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Ferrari explains why ‘first choice’ Vettel was axed

Ferrari Formula 1 team boss Mattia Binotto insisted Sebastian Vettel was the team’s “first choice” for 2021 and explained that the change in circumstances caused by the COVID-19 crisis led the team to opt for a change of driver.

Vettel admitted on Thursday in Austria that he was “surprised” when Binotto phoned and told him that his contract would not be extended beyond the 2020 season, having previously understood that he would be kept on.

The team subsequently announced that it had signed Carlos Sainz from McLaren.

Binotto reiterated on Friday that over the winter Vettel was indeed the team’s first choice, but the crisis and the rule changes that came with it triggered a change of plan.

“Certainly we have always said to him during the winter time privately and publicly that he would have been our first choice, which I confirm,” Binotto said.

“It’s normal that during the winter time many drivers ask us if there are any opportunities to drive for Ferrari, so we have certainly been contacted. That didn’t change our position, so Seb was our first choice.

“What happened since then? I think the virus and pandemic situation, which changed the entire world, not only our motorsport, our F1. The budget cap has been changed by quite a lot, and is a lot more strict, the regulations have been postponed from ’21 to ’22, which somehow was something important for us.

“Cars which have been frozen, or almost frozen, for 2020 and ’21. So let’s say the entire situation has changed.

“And on top of that the season has not started, so there has been no opportunity even for Seb to be back on track to prove how much he was really motivated to drive for Ferrari, which has been somehow unfortunate for him.

“So during the shutdown as Ferrari we had to eventually reconsider our position. We took a decision, so certainly that was our decision, that is our responsibility, and we communicated to him.

“I heard that he was surprised – I remember that he was surprised, yes certainly, I understand it, it’s pretty normal to be surprised. While he accepted our decision I would say even today he’s not fully happy with it, which again I would say is something which is normal and obvious.”

Despite the obvious tensions in the camp given the impending split, Binotto was keen to praise Vettel and the contribution he has made over the years.

“I think it has been a great period, five years so far, six with the current season. He’s a great champion, but he’s as well a great person. I think that everybody in Ferrari, our fans, the people working internally, really love the time with him.

“I think that’s something we fully respect. I personally respect him a lot, him as a professional and as person, and I think that is fully unchanged compared to our decision.”

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Ferrari '99% sure' they will be struggling

Charles Leclerc says Ferrari are “99% sure” that their performance will be down on the start of last season due to various factors.

Although Mercedes secured a record sixth consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship double last year, Ferrari were able to score three race wins and could have done even better with sharper race management.

But this year the Scuderia by their own admission are struggling and looked off the pace during pre-season testing.

And Ferrari have told The Race that the same SF1000 spec that they used in testing will be also used at the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix because of the need for a “significant change of direction in terms of development, especially on the aerodynamic front”.

And Leclerc says that has left the team “99% sure” that they will be struggling.

“I think it’s going to be a very challenging season for us, it’s definitely not going to be easy,” he said.

“We still have this question mark and we still need to wait for qualifying to be absolutely sure of what we say, even though we are 99% sure that we’ll be struggling more than last year.”

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Vettel feels it’s important that Ferrari get answers now with an upgrade planned for the Hungarian Grand Prix later this month, and he also said that Ferrari have been running on a “tight schedule” back at the factory.

“The last couple of months have been quite disruptive for everyone in terms of how much time they had probably to prepare,” he said.

“Everyone in the factory is flat out trying to get everything that we can to the track as soon as possible.

“At the moment it looks like we get an upgrade for Hungary and not for here.

“So it will be interesting to see where we are, to get an answer on that and then we have to take it from there.

“At this stage also it’s unknown how long this season will be, I think we have eight races scheduled. Whether we will have these eight races, whether there will be more, how many more.

“So a lot of things that are unknown. No matter, we try to do our best and get everything on the car as soon as we can, which has always been the case.

“We didn’t make it in time for here but Hungary is only two weeks away.

“We have been on a very tight schedule since the factory was able to restart again.”

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Ferrari to run testing-spec car in Austria ahead of big revamp

The Ferrari Formula 1 team will run the car it planned to race in Melbourne in the two races in Austria – but will introduce a major package of revisions for the third race of the year in Hungary.

Team principal Mattia Binotto said that after the lockdown break the team decided to take a major change of direction in order to find more performance from the SF1000, while knowing that the updates would not be ready for the first two races.

The short time available after the FIA factory shutdown, as well as new COVID-19 protocols that compromised the pace of work in Maranello, meant that changes could not be fast tracked through.

Binotto said it would have been “counterproductive” to pursue the original car concept that proved disappointing in testing.

“This weekend the car will run in the same configuration used towards the end of the Barcelona tests,” Binotto said in a team preview.

“This doesn’t mean we have been twiddling our thumbs in the very limited time of just five and a half weeks in which we were able to work on the cars, because of the stringent procedures involved in working around the pandemic as well as the total shutdown of activities required by the FIA in agreement with the teams.

“The truth is that the outcome of the tests led us to take a significant change of direction in terms of development, especially on the aerodynamic front.

“First, we had to understand why we did not see the results we had expected on track and how much to recalibrate the whole programme as a result. It would have been counterproductive to continue in the direction we had planned, knowing that we would not have reached our goals.

“Therefore we decided to come up with a new programme that looked at the whole car, knowing that not all of it would be ready for the first race. Our aim is to introduce the updates at the third race on 19 July at the Hungaroring.”

However, the team has not given up on the current package, and Binotto is confident that it understands it better than previously.

“Over and above the actual development of the car itself, these past few weeks we have worked a lot on analysing its behaviour, with simulation work and with the help of our drivers and I think that will prove its worth in Austria.

“We know that, at the moment, we don’t have the fastest package. We knew it before heading for Melbourne and that hasn’t changed.

“Having said that, the Spielberg circuit has different characteristics to Montmelo and the temperatures will be well above those of February.

“In Austria, we must try and make the most of every opportunity and then in Hungary, with the new development step we are working on, we will be able to see where we are really compared to the others, while having to take into account the developments our competitors themselves will have brought along.”

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Ferrari don't expect slower pitstops under new rules

Although there is now a limit on the number of staff that teams can have at a race weekend, Ferrari don’t expect it to slow down pitstops.

As of the season-opener in Austria, teams will only be allowed a maximum of 80 staff over a race weekend.

Ferrari are also going to set up their own groups within their bubble of isolation from the other teams, which in theory would stretch their resources even further.

But Ferrari sporting director Laurent Mekies says that will not translate into slower pitstops.

“We now have an overall [personnel] limit which was not there before, of 80 people in total,” he told Autosport.

“So we had to cut mainly non-technical people. As a result, the pitstop operations and engineering operations are not so much affected.

“They are a little bit affected because through global responsibility we have tried to take as few people as possible to the race track regardless of the limit. But overall, you will not see a big change in the number of people involved in pitstop or in operations.

“We have reduced the numbers to do as many things as we could remotely. As you know, we have what we call the ‘parallel box’ here [at Ferrari], the remote garage, that supports our operations. So everything we can do, we are doing remotely. As I’m sure the other teams are doing, as are the FIA.

“But as far as the pitstops are concerned, you will see the same operation there.”

The 2020 season gets underway with the Austrian Grand Prix next weekend.

It will mark the first of two race weekends in a row at the Red Bull Ring.

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Car Reviews

2021 Ferrari SF90 Stradale: What Makes It the Fastest Ferrari Road Car Ever?

“On the road, things happen much faster than in the 488 Pista,” claims test driver Raffaele de Simone of the 2021 Ferrari SF90 Stradale. “Train your neck and your reactions,” he says, hinting that Ferrari’s new 986-hp high-tech hypercar will generate truly prodigious levels of grip while feeling as fast and agile as a race car. “You can go through corners so much quicker.”

The SF90 is a benchmark Ferrari. It is the most powerful Ferrari road car yet. It’s also the quickest, with a claimed 0-60 mph acceleration time of less than 2.5 seconds, with the 0-124 mph sprint taking just 6.7 seconds. So far, so Maranello … But here’s where it gets really interesting. The SF90 is the first flagship Ferrari since the F40 not to have a V-12 engine. What’s more, it’s also the first ever plug-in hybrid Ferrari, the first all-wheel-drive mid-engine Ferrari, the first Ferrari to use brake-by-wire technology, and the first Ferrari sports car fitted with electric power steering.

That smell? Tradition, smoldering in a dumpster. It might have the old-school prancing horse shield on the front fenders and the drive select buttons arranged in a structure on the center console designed to look like the iconic metal shiftgate, but the SF90 is very much a Ferrari of the here and now, a road car clearly developed by a company whose Formula 1 team is part of its in-house design and engineering expertise and not the result of an expensive sponsorship deal. “It represents the pinnacle of what Ferrari is capable of doing,” says SF90 product manager Matteo Turconi.

Let’s take a closer look.

The Ferrari SF90 Stradale’s Plug-In Hybrid Powertrain

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The SF90’s hybrid powertrain comprises a mid-mounted twin-turbo V-8 engine that develops 769 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, three electric motors, and a mid-mounted high-voltage battery. One e-motor is mounted between the engine and the new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic and develops 157 hp and 196 lb-ft of torque. The two other e-motors are mounted at the front axle, driving the front wheels, and each develops 97 hp and 62 lb-ft of torque. The liquid-cooled single-module 8-kW-hr battery weighs just 158 pounds, and it allows the SF90 to travel up to 15 miles on pure electric power, using the front motors, at speeds of up to 84 mph.


See all 13 photos

Although the SF90’s V-8 is a member of the F154 engine family, which debuted in the California T and has been used in the 488 and F8 Tributo, it has been significantly upgraded. New cylinder heads feature redesigned combustion chambers with centrally mounted injectors that deliver a 7 percent increase in combustion pressure, increasing power. As a result, capacity has increased slightly from 3.9 liters to 4.0 liters.

See all 13 photos

Other changes include a new crank, new conrods, new pistons, new camshafts, a new intake system—the plenums are virtually bolted to the heads—and a new exhaust. The turbos are the same size as on the F8 Tributo, but revised compressor scrolls facilitate increased airflow. The new parts reduce the engine’s weight by 55 pounds and have reduced overall height by 12 percent, helping lower the car’s center of gravity.


See all 13 photos

Nicknamed the “pizza motor” by Ferrari engineers, the main e-motor, called P1, is sandwiched between the rear of the V-8 internal combustion engine and the front of the new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. Ferrari claims the axial flux technology used in the motor is a world first in terms of a production car. An axial flux motor means the disc-like rotors are coaxially mounted on either side of a flat stator (conventional e-motors have a rotor that spins inside a tubelike stator). In the Ferrari motor, the rotors are made of a stainless-steel substrate, an iron laminate, and with array of magnets adhesively bonded to them. Just 2.8 inches deep and weighing 48 pounds, the P1 e-motor is extremely power dense, capable of producing 157 hp and 196 lb-ft of torque.

See all 13 photos

The two e-motors driving the front wheels of the SF90, called P4s, are conventional in design, with hairpin-wound rotors spinning inside a fixed stator case. “It’s a relatively tried and tested technology, but evolved to allow small diameters and high speeds,” says head of powertrain Vittorio Dini. The water-cooled motors weigh just 26 pounds each and will spin to 25,000 rpm. They drive the front wheels through what Ferrari describes as “a cascaded cylindrical and planetary geartrain” that allows the motors to propel the SF90 to 84 mph in pure electric power mode, the torque to each wheel to be independently varied, and for both e-motors to be disengaged at speeds above 130mph. The SF90 is thus a front-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive, or rear-wheel-drive car, depending on the drive mode and driving conditions.


See all 13 photos

The SF90’s eight-speed dual-clutch transmission is all new and will eventually appear across the Ferrari lineup. It has been designed to allow the engine to sit lower in the chassis than the seven-speeder used in the F8 Tributo and can handle 96 lb-ft more torque. The taller eighth gear helps reduce fuel consumption by 5 percent, and a dry-sump oil system that allows the use of a single oil for both lubrication and hydraulic actuation instead of the two oils used in the seven-speed cuts it by a further 3 percent. The new transmission is also 15 pounds lighter overall than the old seven-speed, but Ferrari has lightened it a further 6 pounds in the SF90 by taking out the reverse gear set; select reverse, and the front e-motors push the car backwards.


See all 13 photos

In addition to a new transmission, the SF90 debuts a digital dash and driver interface that will also eventually appear in future Ferraris. The centerpiece of the system is a fully configurable digital instrument panel on a 16-inch, full HD, freeform curved screen. An industry first, says Ferrari’s head of HMI and ergonomics, Maximilian Romani. The screen is flanked by pods that come within fingertip reach of the steering wheel. Touch controls on the right pod adjust the HVAC functions; those on the left pod are for light and exterior mirrors. A head-up display, the smallest yet developed for a sports car, says Ferrari, projects information in high resolution onto the windshield.

See all 13 photos

“Eyes on the road, hands on the steering wheel.” That’s the mantra behind the development of the new driver interface system, says Ferrari, and a new steering wheel with capacitive touch switches and a small touchpad is an integral part of the system. There is no start-stop button. Just touch the icon above the third spoke twice, and the SF90 is ready to glide away on its electric motors, with Hybrid mode being the default driving mode. Romani says that compared with an 812 Superfast, the new interface reduces the time the driver has to glance away from the road by 36 percent, and the time taken to complete a task by 26 percent.


See all 13 photos

Ferrari’s now familiar Manettino drive mode switch is in its usual place, just to the lower right of the steering wheel boss. But the SF90’s PHEV powertrain adds an extra layer of complexity and capability to the menu. These additional modes are controlled by a cluster of touch switches just to the lower left of the steering wheel boss dubbed eManettino.

See all 13 photos

The SF90’s eDrive mode means the Ferrari will drive on the front e-motors only. Hybrid mode is the default setting, with the computers switching the energy flows between the twin-turbo V-8 and e-motors as appropriate. Performance mode keeps the internal combustion engine running at all times to keep the battery charged and e-power instantly available. And Qualifying mode will ensure the powertrain gives the full 986 hp for as long as there’s charge in the battery. It’s good for about six or seven laps of Ferrari’s Fiorano test track or one lap of the 12.9-mile Nürburgring Nordschleife, says Stefano Varisco, head of vehicle dynamics.

Aerodynamics and the SF90

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To optimize the SF90’s shape not just for performance but also for hybrid and e-motor running and to assist with the thermal management of the PHEV powertrain, Ferrari spent 50 percent more time in the wind tunnel honing the aerodynamics than it did with the LaFerrari. “It is the most aerodynamically efficient car in the Ferrari range,” says head of aerodynamics Matteo Biancalana. Up front, the central intake cools the front e-motors, while the intakes either side are for cooling the V-8 engine. Borrowing from F1 experience, the front floor has been raised 0.6 inch to fit larger vortex generators under the car, increasing downforce on the front axle by 30 percent.

See all 13 photos

The most innovative aerodynamic element is at the rear of the car. In normal low-drag mode, air flows over the cabin and exits through a vent between the taillights. In high-downforce mode, the central element of the wing drops down and stops that flow, effectively creating a giant Gurney flap. The patented system is said to develop 860 pounds of downforce at 186 mph. Raising the central element back into place for low-drag mode requires less effort, Ferrari says, because it essentially floats on the airflow and engineers were able to reduce the weight of the actuators by 66 percent.


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Car Reviews

Greatest drives – Ferrari 812, Porsche Speedster, Fiesta ST and more

From hot hatches to supercars, news and reviews editor Jonathan Burn looks back on the drives that stand out

Before working at Auto Express, which he’s done for seven years, Johnny was a subscriber. Magazines kickstarted his interest in cars many years ago, along with his dad’s love for British classics. Old MGs, Triumphs and Minis were regular features on the driveway – we won’t mention the diesel Jaguar X-Type.

  • Greatest drives – Porsche 911 GT3 RS, Tesla Model S, M3 CSL and more

1. Ford Fiesta ST

Throughout this series, we’ve seen two Ferraris, a McLaren and a Porsche top the ‘Best cars I’ve ever driven’ list. All of them deserve to be there because, quite simply, they’re all exceptional machines. But for me, the overall appeal of a car has as much to do with how attainable it is, as the grin it puts on your face. 

Of course, attainability is a relative concept, but for me nothing comes close to the latest Ford Fiesta ST. Sure, I’ve driven cars that are faster – much faster – cost a lot more, and make you grip the wheel tighter, as well as some that are close to addictive. But the Fiesta ST perfectly encapsulates what makes a truly great driver’s car. 

When the model was first introduced, I remember there wasn’t a single thing I wanted to drive more. The previous ST was stellar, so I had high hopes for the latest version – but I also had some reservations, because the moveto a three-cylinder engine was unheard of for a hot hatch.

My first chance to drive the ST came when I managed to persuade our senior reviewer, Sam Naylor, to give me the keys to his fleet car for a weekend – the very car you can see above. I planned a route from London to my hometown of Newcastle, which veered off at the Yorkshire Dales, went up through the North Pennines and finally ended in the barren but beautiful hills of Northumberland. 

My first impression was being truly amazed by the quality of the ST’s ride. The previous model was about as relaxing as a trip down a flight of stairs, but the latest version was more than comfortable enough to use everyday. That thought was compounded after 200 miles on the M1. 

Over the Yorkshire Moors and North Pennines, the ST just got better and better. The more I drove it, the more I loved it. The power delivery, rate of response, steering, balance, noise… everything felt so well engineered and put together. I enjoy driving it as much today as I did back when it was launched, and I wouldn’t think twice about spending my own cash on one if I had the opportunity.

2. Ferrari 812 Superfast

I’ll be the first to recognise that having a £262,963 Ferrari as number two on my ‘best drives’ list contradicts my previous argument about attainability – but sometimes a car simply leaves you truly stunned. And that’s exactly what happened when I had the chance to drive the 812 Superfast.

The images you see here are, in fact, the exact shots we snapped for a drive report back in 2018 – our first chance to experience the 812 in the UK. I had to get myself to Ferrari’s UK HQ in Slough first thing on a cold Tuesday morning in March to collect the car; the lurid yellow paintwork contrasted wonderfully with the rather miserable weather. 

Even sitting still, the 812 just looked intimidating. And then I was handed the spec sheet, which said the model I was about to navigate back through London traffic was listed at £337,555, fully kitted out. It had around £75,000-worth of extra trinkets fitted to it. 

From start to finish, the thing that dominated the 812’s driving experience was the monstrous 6.5-litre naturally aspirated V12. Given the industry’s focus on electrification, there’s unlikely to be an engine like it ever again without the presence of some form of electrical assistance. It will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest powerplants of all time. 

Right from idle, a mere flex of my right foot brought a tidal wave of noise and power. Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome’s two-mile runway felt like an appropriate setting given the ferocity of the acceleration. Every gearshift was accompanied by a thump in the back as the revs and speed continued to climb at relentless pace. 

The 812 Superfast is also one of the few cars that’s genuinely terrified me behind the wheel. The narrow, winding and greasy back roads around Bruntingthorpe were not what this model was developed for. Thankfully I managed to return it to Slough without so much as knocking a penny from its outrageous price tag.

3. Renaultsport Mégane 275 Trophy R

Hot hatchbacks have, arguably, one of the toughest jobs around. They’ve got to be comfortable enough to use everyday, affordable, practical, reasonably cheap to run and, most importantly, incredible to drive. Plenty of car makers do it well, but few do it better than Renault. 

And what puts the brand head and shoulders above the rest is the lunacy it applies to a few, small examples – in this case, the 275 Trophy R. Renault turned what was already an incredible hot hatch, the Mégane 275, into one of the most extreme and intoxicating performance cars on sale. 

The model was hardly a porker to begin with, but around 100kg was further stripped out by removing the sound deadening, rear seats, air-conditioning unit and even the rear wiper. Lightweight alloy wheels and Öhlins adjustable dampers were added, along with Recaro bucket seats with six-point harnesses to round off the stripped-out road racer. 

The result was simply spectacular; the whole model just felt raw and totally focused. The 271bhp 2.0-litre engine was respectably punchy, but the raspy exhaust note and anti-social pops and bangs on the over-run gave the car real character. Even more impressive was the snickety six-speed manual transmission, whose action was short and sharp with every gearchange.

Meanwhile, the chassis had a lovely balance to it, and the steering boasted a beautiful weight and feel. On the right road, the 275 Trophy R often felt like a mini touring car. These models have also held their value very well, so it’s not only a fantastic road car, but a genuine investment, too.

4. Mini Cooper

If you haven’t owned a Mini, you almost certainly know someone who has. This pocket-sized runabout is an absolute icon of the British motor industry, adored up and down the country despite its woeful reputation for reliability. 

It’s something I have first-hand experience of, because the first car I ever owned was a 1993 Mini Cooper. I bought my example for about £3,000, and spent a further £3,000 on repairing the weekly occurring issues over a number of years. The best one – although I’m not sure my parents would agree – was the fuel tank that spontaneously haemorrhaged overnight, resulting in a melted driveway. Sorry, dad. 

However, when the Mini wasn’t in the garage being repaired, it was an absolute treat to drive. A real back-to-basics experience, the enjoyment came from its simplicity and eager, darty nature. A lack of power steering meant I could almost feel the road surface through the wheel, while the pocket-sized proportions and fantastic all-round visibility meant I could place the car exactly where I wanted it on the road.

5. Porsche 911 Speedster

The 911 Speedster was Porsche’s 70th birthday present to itself in 2018. The best way to think of it is as a roofless 911 GT3 – and as combinations go, that takes some beating. Nestled behind the driver, hanging over the rear axle, sits a 503bhp 4.0-litre flat six that wails its way to 9,000rpm. And getting there requires some hard labour, because the only gearbox available is
the brand’s fabulous six-speed manual.

My first experience of the Speedster came in the snow-dusted surroundings of the Yorkshire Dales last November. The temperature hovered around zero for most of the day, as snow fell delicately from the sky – far from ideal conditions. However, the roof stayed down while the hat and gloves remained on, along with an enormous grin plastered across my face. 

The combination of the 911’s noise, the tactility of the controls, and its overall balance made the drive truly memorable (and achingly cold). Take a 500bhp supercar out in conditions such as that and you’ll more than likely be on the phone to your insurer within a matter of minutes, yet the Porsche felt manageable and controllable. The smooth, linear power delivery of the flat six certainly helped, as did the balanced chassis with which all Porsches appear to be blessed.

Only 1,947 examples were produced worldwide, with some swapping hands for up to £1million on the second-hand market immediately following its launch.

What's the best car you've ever driven? Tell us about it in the comments…

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