The following morning was the Goodwood Italian Day breakfast club meet, so an early start was called for.
Unfortunately, Phil (who had to be woken up minutes before we were due to leave) had an “old Lambo” moment when his Espada’s clutch refused to disengage. Only problem for me was, he was blocking in my F430 on our steep driveway…
After a bit of starter motor driving, it was finally out of the way, and in the spirit of good comradeship, I abandoned him to the RAC whilst I hurried off to meet up with a convoy of Ferrari owners.
A surprisingly sedate drive down to the circuit ensued, although there were a few squirts where the F430 proved its 490bhp was more than a match for the multiple 360 Challenge Stradales in the group.
A pleasant morning was then spent ogling Italian machinery, ranging from Bimotas to a Zonda F. I was pleased to note that mine was the only F430 Spider there which made it rarer than Enzos that day!
My first few road miles brought mixed feelings. Compared to The Beast, its performance did feel decidedly flat, even though 490bhp, 0-60 in 4.0s and 196mph could not be honestly described as “slow”. Although very torquey by Ferrari V8 standards, the F430 still needs to be stoked along to get the most out of it.
To that end, I had no hesitation in ordering the F1 paddle-shift gearbox, as although “clack-snicking” your way around a Ferrari’s metal-gated manual box is one of driving’s purest pleasures, it was clear from the 360 Challenge Stradale onwards that the robo-clutch boxes were the only way to get the most out of modern Ferraris.
My memories of the F1 in the F430 coupe I drove 2 years ago in France, was that Ferrari had just about perfected it, with seamless, instant changes. My brand new car didn’t quite match those memories and there is a subtle jolt with most changes, particularly when charging hard higher up the rev range. A microscopic, perfectly timed lift of the throttle can reduce the jolt to virtually nothing, but I don’t remember having to do this in the coupe.
Likewise, downchanges are impressive, but not perfect, and again, some deft heel-and-toeing can improve matters.
However, overall the F1 box is still a miracle of modern motoring and is an intrinsic part of the F430’s “manettino” system that combines gearchange speed, damper valving, traction control leeway and stability control latitude into a little steering wheel mounted switch.
I personally would like to be able to separate the TC/ESP functions from the damper stiffness as, for example, not having the TC cut in intrusively on a wet, bumpy road means having to live with the unsuitably hard ride that Race mode entails.
But as a way of quickly and ergonomically selecting different driving modes, it is unbeatable.
The ride is overall extremely supple and well controlled and only a slight shimmer from the rear view mirror betrays the miniscule lack of rigidity compared to the coupe. There is certainly no creaking or untoward steering wheel shudder.
The damping is clearly far superior to the Z06’s, no matter which mode it is in. I experimented briefly in Wet mode where the ride is pretty soft, but so is the engine response. A lot of the time the manettino is left in Sport as the ride copes brilliantly with the worst that British B roads can throw at it, but the only annoyance is that the F1 box changes up automatically at about 8,250rpm when there is still over 300rpm to go! So as soon as the road seems smooth enough, Race it is, giving the least body-roll, fastest gearchange, loosest CST interference and the full rev range to the redline at 8,600rpm.
Without wanting to sound all nanny state, the only place I would really switch to “CST off” mode is the race track; so suitably run in, and eight days after taking delivery, I took the Spider to my favourite “learning a new car” venue, Palmersport’s Bedford Autodrome.
Knowing that we live in increasingly restrictive times, I had contacted Bookatrack’s Jonny Leroux beforehand to see if there had been any noise problems with F430s at Bedford. Perhaps it’s a reflection of how few Ferraris are regularly tracked that Bookatrack had yet to run an F430 there, but he said that 360s were ok, so I should be.
Indeed, on arrival, the static sound test guy merely nodded admiringly at the car and said “no need to test that”.
Bookatrack run all their days in the preferable “open pitlane” format, hence allowing you to choose when to go out and how long for.
I set out for a few exploratory laps and was disappointed to find that the ultra-sharp, understeer-free front end of the 2005 Coupe was entirely absent on my Spider. Medium and high speed corners taken normally resulted in apices being missed by yards and there was simply an overall lack of grip from the front tyres as they skated over the tarmac.
The rear Pirellis, in contrast, maintained a steadfast hold unless deliberately provoked with trail braking and a lot of Scandinavian-style weight transferring at which point the mass of the engine and gearbox behind you makes a half-spin almost inevitable.
Further disappointment was to follow when the dreaded Black Flag was brought out and pointed firmly at me…
A chat with the friendly marshal in the “sin bin” revealed that my totally road-legal, standard car was tripping the local council-monitored noise meters. I hurriedly explained that I was in the noisiest “Race” mode and that stepping down to “Sport” would keep the exhaust bypass valves closed for longer. Plus, a self-imposed rev limit of 7k should bring the noise levels down further.
He sportingly let me go out again under those caveats and at first there was no problem.
The enormous Brembo-manufactured carbon-ceramic brakes were absolutely awe-inspiring; the best I have ever used with a solid, feelsome pedal and zero fade despite some unprecedently late braking.
But when I started to have more fun again and let the revs stray above 7,500rpm (the engine doesn’t make peak power until 8.5k) the flag of doom reappeared and this time my windscreen sticker was removed like a rogue cop having to “hand in your badge and gun”. Suspended with no pay…
So, a rocky start to my relationship with my first new Ferrari. Will it win me over to replace The Beast’s place in my heart? Time (and more journal entries) will tell…
Track shots: Bookatrack