It’s one of the most exciting times for an F1 team as the product of months of hard work is finally unveiled to the world, we’ve already seen half of the grid revealed during the past 10 days and today it was the turn of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team.

However, in what looked at first like an un-choreographed launch, the MP4-26 was assembled in front of the waiting press with pieces being brought out by members of the public to construct and reveal Mclaren’s new MP4-26 chassis. Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button arrived with the final pieces – the steering wheel and cockpit protector to complete the team’s challenger for the 2011 FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Weird.

The car was wheeled into Berlin's Potsdamer Platz and then constructed using pieces carried by members of the public and Vodafone guests.

Revealed at Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, the famous public space that sits on the fringe of the old Berlin Wall, the car was built up by dozens of Vodafone competition-winners, fans and customers carrying components into the arena, where the new chassis was gradually pieced together in front of a huge crowd.

Morten Lundal, Vodafone’s Group Chief Commercial Officer, said: “We were delighted to see Vodafone customers playing a part in the innovative launch event for the new Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 car, presenting parts of the car to the team mechanics as it was assembled and revealed for the first time today in Berlin – a real ‘power to you’ experience.

“As part of our 2011 Formula One plans, Vodafone will be developing many similar events that engage and empower fans, our customers and the wider public to really get close to the Formula One action – making it more accessible and inclusive for all. We wish the team and drivers, Lewis and Jenson, all the best for a successful season ahead.”

Looking radically different from last year’s race-winning chassis, MP4-26 features a range of aerodynamic features designed to take advantage of new rules significantly limiting the amount of downforce that can be derived from the car’s underbody.

These most notably include distinctive U-shaped sidepods – to feed air more efficiently to the car’s rear-end – and a drag reduction system [active rear-wing], introduced for 2011 to increase the potential for overtaking.

Beneath the skin, the car houses an all-new electric KERS [hybrid] system. Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, along with our engine partners Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines, became the first-ever Formula 1 team to win a grand prix using a hybrid device in 2009, and this new system is expected to further refine that race-winning package.

The team continues for 2011 with the proven driver pairing of world champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. Between them, they helped Vodafone McLaren Mercedes to five grands prix victories, three one-two results and second overall in the 2010 constructors’ championship.

Following today’s launch, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes’ Gary Paffett will shake down MP4-26 during a private session at the Idiada Proving Ground in Spain on Tuesday February 8 before the team begins track testing at the Circuito de Jerez on Thursday February 10.

Pictures: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

Q&A with technical director Paddy Lowe and director of engineering Tim Goss

What are the significant visual changes to the MP4-26?

Tim: “I think there are some novel features on the car – the long wheelbase and U-shaped sidepods are probably the most obvious examples. The thinking behind that is to feed as much good-quality air as possible to the rear-lower mainplane and the floor of the car. We want to get the rear-end working as well as possible following the loss of performance caused by the banning of the double-diffuser.

“For 2011, KERS [hybrid] is now a single integrated unit that sits within the survival cell, beneath the fuel-tank. In 2009, it was housed in the sidepods. The hybrid’s cooling intake sits directly below the main rollhoop intake.

“And, once again, we’ve really pushed the car’s cooling configuration: we’ve got a second air intake on the engine cover for gearbox and hydraulic cooling.”

What have been your biggest challenges ahead of the 2011 season?

Tim: “For me, there have been two: recovering the rear downforce we lost following the banning of the double-diffuser, and fully exploiting the Pirelli tyres. The tyres only last for around 10 laps, and making them last longer is quite a challenge. So we need to look closely at how we configure the set-up and suspension to make the tyres last.”

Paddy: “Getting KERS [hybrid] back on the car was a big task. Collaborating with Mercedes GP to define the specification for Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines was very satisfying: there was great collaboration and co-operation between us. There can be lots of difficulties finding alignment between two teams, but I’m pleased with how we made it happen and very happy with the outcome.”

Tim: “The system was also more difficult to package because you’ve got to carry more fuel. That was the first challenge, but we got through that. There were a few difficult decisions concerning architecture around different aerodynamic concepts, but I think we ended up with a design layout we’re happy with.”

You’ve both stressed the team-effort that has characterised the development of this car – does the recent restructure of the technical management reflect that?

Paddy: “The restructure reflects Tim’s increased role within the engineering department, but it’s also been good to delegate the work around the next generation of senior engineers coming through in the company.

“For MP4-26, we’ve distributed the workload around five or six senior engineers in different specialist areas – and that’s a structure that will continue under Tim’s watch. I’m really proud of the depth of talent that we can draw upon at McLaren Racing, and there have been some great opportunities for some new players to contribute directly to the car at a high level.

Tim: “And it’s not just good for them; it’s good for the company and good for the end-product. I think we’re going to make better cars because we have wider access to the horsepower available within the design system. They’re all good guys and all have good ideas – it’s a cliché, but car design really is a team effort these days.”

What are your immediate aspirations as you roll out MP4-26?

Tim: We set ourselves a very ambitious aerodynamic target for 2011. We always want to do more and we’re always very critical about performance, but we feel we’ve done a good job. We’ve identified some areas where we can add performance to the car – over the next weeks, the task will be to get them on to the car and reliable by the first race. That’s the big challenge.”

At a glance

Monocoque McLaren-moulded carbonfibre composite incorporating front and side impact structures
Front suspension Inboard torsion bar/damper system operated by pushrod and bell crank with a double wishbone arrangement
Rear suspension Inboard torsion bar/damper system operated by pullrod and bell crank with a double wishbone arrangement
Electronics McLaren Electronic Systems. Including chassis control, engine control, data acquisition, dashboard, alternator, sensors, data analysis and telemetry.
Bodywork Carbon-fibre composite. Separate engine cover, sidepods and floor. Structural nose with intergral front wing Driver-operated drag reduction system [active rear wing
Tyres Pirelli P Zero
Radio Kenwood
Race wheels Enkei
Brake callipers Akebono
Master cylinders Akebono
GS Yuasa Corporation
Steering McLaren power-assisted
Instruments McLaren Electronic Systems
Paint solutions AkzoNobel Car Refinishes using Sikkens Products
Mercedes-Benz FO 108Y
Capacity 2.4 litres
Cylinders 8
Maximum rpm 18,000
Bank angle 90°
Piston bore maximum 98mm
Number of valves 32
ExxonMobil High Performance Unleaded (5.75% bio fuel)
Spark plugs NGK racing spark plugs specially designed for Mercedes-Benz F1 engine
Lubricants Mobil 1 – combining greater performance, protection and cooling with increased economy and lower emissions
Weight 95kg (minimum FIA regulation weight)
KERS [hybrid]
Type Mercedes-Benz
e-Motor Engine-mounted electrical motor/generator
ESS Integrated energy storage cells and power electronics
Power 60 kW
Gearbox McLaren-moulded carbon-fibre composite. Integral rear impact structure
Gears Seven forward and one reverse
Gear selection McLaren seamless shift, hand-operated
Clutch Carbon/carbon, hand-operated
Lubricants Mobil