It’s two o’clock on Tuesday morning in Maranello, and I’ve not managed to fall asleep in the Hotel Planet – tomorrow is too exciting – when I hear a powerful car approaching and brapping to a stop.

My room overlooks the main gate of Ferrari’s headquarters on Via Abetone Inferiore.

I’m slow to react (no change there, etc), but remember a Ferrari test driver, and he’s not alone, once telling me engineers often test cars at night here because there’s less chance of being seen by photographers – which is, these days, pretty much everyone – and because the roads are quieter.

So I reach for my phone and glasses from the bedside table and scramble towards a window, reckoning I’ve got mere seconds to scoop a prototype.

It will be taped over with disguise, of course, and painted black, and it’s dark, too, obviously, and I’ll be trying to snap it from 200m away with a four-year-old telephone’s camera. But still. I’m showing willing here, okay?

But when I throw open the window and peer out, I’m just in time to see, inching through a barrier, the unmistakable rear light profile of a McLaren 570S. Or 570GT. Or 600LT or 540C. So not that unmistakable. But not a 720S, I don’t think. And definitely a McLaren.

While my phone camera is trying, and failing, to zoom and focus in the dark, the McLaren drives through the gates and burbles off through that famous old archway and is gone, exhaust echoes occasionally still audible as it pootles, presumably, to some unseen engineering centre in this dense facility where the aisles and streets are named after Ferrari’s Formula 1 world champions.

I know. ‘Supercar manufacturer benchmarks another supercar’ shocker. Ask any senior automotive engineer and they’ll have tried their competitors’ products. Sometimes they borrow them on friendly terms from demonstrator fleets. The other week, I got a text from one engineer saying how great they thought the 600LT they’d just tried was. A few years ago, another told me they’d looked at one of their demo car’s GPS tracking datalogs and were – how to put it? – slightly anxious to note how fast it had been going.


But sometimes they hire these cars for a while; sometimes weeks, sometimes just a few hours for a benchmarking event. And sometimes they decide to ask the gaffer to write a cheque for several hundred thousand quid so they can buy a rival car, test the living daylights out of it, tear it to pieces and put it back together again, to work out exactly how much it costs.

There was a time when a Ferrari’s natural rival would be a Porsche. Not today. There’s nobody each company takes more seriously than the other, despite one company boss (not Ferrari’s) once saying McLaren sold “different lengths of the same sausage”. Ferraris were good before McLaren Automotive arrived at the start of this decade. But they’ve been outstanding since. Would it be churlish to suggest these things are coincidental?

Anyway, while there’s nothing unusual about it, if you’d asked me to guess which rival’s car I’d likely see at Maranello – and ditto at Woking – it’d be a McLaren and Ferrari respectively. Not exactly a revelation, then, but confirmation, of a sort.

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