What makes F1 drivers tick? Marc Gené takes us for a scare ride in a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta (update)
As part of an event to highlight the benefits of V-Power petrol over conventional fuels, and its similarity to the mixes used by the Ferrari Formula One racing team, Pocket-lint was invited to join Shell in Belgium on the eve of the Spa Grand Prix.
We certainly found out more about the fuels for both motorsport and consumer use. We found out a considerable amount about the technologies used in V-Power that increase performance, even in the most affordable of engines. And we found out how it was possible to be reduced to the state of a giggling child by the insanely mad skills of an F1 driver.
To show just how exciting driving can be at the extreme end, Shell gave us a glimpse of what it's like to be a racing driver, albeit in the passenger seat. That's partly because there is no way we will ever be able to drive as well as Ferrari test driver Marc Gené and partly because there is no way on Earth it would let us behind the wheel of a £250,000 F12 Berlinetta.
Being in the passenger seat was ample. Marc Gené is not only a genius behind the wheel, he is also a genuinely nice guy. And a nut job. Clearly.
He has been a tester for Williams in the past and now Ferrari, but also competed in 36 Grand Prix races for Minardi throughout the late 90s, early 00s.
We were very lucky to have him as our pilot for the day, we were told, not just because he had special orders by Shell to go "extra hard" on us, but that he was driving the F12 and that was "the best car I would have chosen for this track," he told us.
The other car for the day, driven by fellow Ferrari test driver Andreas Bertolini, was the Ferrari 458 Speciale - a lighter and slightly faster car that is best suited to longer tracks, such as Spa itself, rather than the short, testing circuit set up by Shell.
The F12 however, in such conditions, was more "fun" and a better drive. "I would buy one of these," said Gené.
Part of the reason is that, because it is heavier in the rear end, on a slightly slippy circuit such as the one we were about to embark on, the Berlinetta is capable of swinging the back end out and drifting around corners - as we found out. Several times.
Before our drive started, we were strapped up to heart rate monitors and the like to measure our "excitement" levels, and a camera was pointed straight at us to show our reactions. And then we were off like a rocket. The rest is a bit of a blur.
Highlights of the one-and-a-half laps, that seemed to last about two seconds, include a brief realisation that we were being pulled along by a massive, growling V12 engine. It is, as Gené said at the time, technically "more powerful" than the new V6 engines in this year's Formula One, but is very much an equivalent thanks to other technologies employed by race teams. We'd not quite heard its roar from inside a supercar of this category before - it is almost musical.
Others involve an acceleration through a tunnel of dancing laser beams from 0-70mph in what felt like the blink of an eye, a sideways drift around a section of the track covered in fake snow and a complete spin-out that had the marshals look on with mildly worried faces.
Nobody else on the day span out and Gené told us that because of his orders by Shell to give use a "proper ride" he may have gone a little "too far". He was chuckling when he said it. So were we.
Then it was all over and the physiological sensors were removed for analysis. Formula One drivers, we were told, have a constant heart rate of around 170 beats per minute for an entire race. In the test experience, ours only got up to 132bpm but that still felt plenty fast enough.
And the drivers also suffer G-forces of up to 5 Gs in actual race conditions. However, neither would be reasons for why we could never do what they do.
The reason we could never be an F1 driver was sat next to us in the most wonderful of supercars. Marc Gené had something you can't teach. His driving skills were so very far ahead of our own, even though we've always considered ourselves to be dab hands at go-karting and the like, but that's not the point. Marc Gené has a twinkle in his eye that says that he's willing to stretch the laws of physics and the technology at his fingertips to the very limit. And sometimes beyond, we discovered.
That's why he does what he does and we giggle like the front row of a One Direction concert when simply sat in the passenger seat.
That being said, we'll probably take better care of our quarter of a million pound vehicles. "The supervisor told us that Gené and Bertolini had wrecked the cars," we were told by a Shell representative. "One more drive and they would be useless."