2007 was a difficult year for the Woking-based McLaren outfit, the team achieved so much but ultimately failed to secure either the drivers or constructors championship.
The clumsily named 'spygate' or alternatively the 'stepneygate' affair gave the team as many headlines in the later part of the season as the phenomenal success of rookie driver Lewis Hamilton and the team in general.
Company director Ron Dennis who was so often visibly delighted with the success of his young prot?g? was clearly visibly shaken by the scandal that hit the company during the year. The recent public apology by McLaren seems to finally put an end to the affair with FIA president Max Mosely asking the members of the World Motor Sport Council for their consent to cancel the hearing scheduled for 14 February 2008 and, in the interests of the sport, to consider this matter closed. The Ferrari team however, have their own ideas so we are likely to see a few more headlines yet.
It's the action on the track not the court room that concerns us now, so, after one of the closest seasons in Formula One history for 2007, the real excitement now revolves around how the teams will compare for the 2008 season.
Ferrari have taken first blood by launching their car a day ahead of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes squad, but it's on the track at Melbourne where the fight really starts later in March.
After possibly the most impressive launch of any team in 2007 taking place in front of huge crowds lining the streets of Valencia, this year McLaren were planning on doing their talking on the track. For 2008 they did not plan an official launch at all. This changed and McLaren launched the MP4-23 at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart today on the 7th of January.
The unveiling itself took place in the 53,000 sqm museum in front of the worlds media and approximately 700 Mercedes-Benz employees from the nearby manufacturing plant Stuttgart-Untert?rkheim.
Norbert Haug, Vice President of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport commented, "Our Museum is a unique place for this event. More than 160 Mercedes-Benz cars, amongst them 30 historic racing cars representing more than 100 years of Mercedes-Benz motorsport heritage create a most remarkable environment for the presentation of the new Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-23.
"I am really pleased that we are able to present with this car launch many of our colleagues from the nearby Untert?rkheim manufacturing plant a New Years surprise today," Haug continued. "The media presence at our compact presentation today was massive, which is an additional motivation for everybody in the team to start the 2008 season with the target to finish one point ahead instead of one point behind the opposition."
Lewis Hamilton actually celebrated his 23rd Birthday at the launch, and what a present he has been given. "The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 is the coolest birthday present you can get, well it is for me anyway! To see the car for the first time at such a great place as the Mercedes-Benz museum makes it an even more memorable day.
"I have had the past three weeks off and spent the time training and relaxing with family and friends. I know how much work has been going on in Woking, Brixworth and here in Stuttgart and it is a great looking car. My engineer has told me that approximately 14,000 manufacturing man hours have been involved to produce the car in time for today. I will be testing it for the first time on Thursday. It is going to be a busy time but myself, Heikki, who I welcome as my new teammate, and everyone within the team is looking forward to it as we push forward together." Hamilton concluded.
Hamilton's new teammate for 2008, Heikki Kovalainen commented: "Today is my first official event as a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver and it hasn't come soon enough. After joining the team on the 14th December, I have already spent some time at the McLaren Technology Centre getting to know everybody and working with my engineers.
"It is also great to be here at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart today to meet the Mercedes-Benz employees, media and VIP guests for the first time as a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver," Kovalainen added. "I was able to learn a lot last year, and hope to take that knowledge into the 2008 season. I am looking forward to contributing to the development of the car during the six main tests in the build-up to Melbourne. It is a really exciting time for me to be joining Vodafone McLaren Mercedes."
The pair along with test driver Pedro De La Rosa will not have to wait too long to get to drive the new car. Following the launch the car will be transported to the Circuito de Jerez in Southern Spain, where on Wednesday in a private test, Kovalainen and De La Rosa will start the test programme with two MP4-23 chassis. The team will remain at the circuit for five track days and Hamilton will drive the 2008 car for the first time on Thursday.
Dr Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the board of the management of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars expressed his thoughts for the new season: "I am confident that, with Heikki and Lewis, we'll have a very strong driver team on the track. All of us at Daimler are extremely proud of the tremendous track record of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team. They prove once again: You can't be with Daimler or Mercedes-Benz without wanting to belong to the best - that's in the DNA of our company in a way. And that applies also for the motorsport."
The car itself has spent over 3000 hours being developed in the wind tunnel while 150 different engineers have been involved in the whole project. So far 14000 engineering man-hours have been put into the cars development, a similar number of hours again have been put into its production.
Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula1 Vodafone McLaren Mercedes spoke about the development of the MP4-23 which in his words "began in earnest 10 months ago and everyone in Woking, Brixworth and Stuttgart have worked very hard during the last few weeks, and particularly over the Christmas period, to make today's presentation here in Stuttgart happen."
"In addition we have continued to benefit from tremendous support from all of our Technology Partners. We are confident, based upon the simulation and analysis which has been an integral part of the development process, that the MP4-23 represents a step forward. Of course we will continue to develop the car from now until the first race in Australia and see whether we have done enough to be at the level where we want to compete this coming season," added Whitmarsh.
"From today we have 68 working days until the Australian Grand Prix, and everybody within the team is highly motivated to travel to Melbourne with the most competitive package possible."
As with the Ferrari F2008, the MP4-23 is an evolution of its predecessor. However, the new McLaren has no significant visual differences to the MP4-22. The team did note, the same as the Ferrari team, that there are planned upgrades on most of the aerodynamic surfaces: wings, bodywork, bargeboards and additional components before the car first race, the 2008 season opener Grand Prix in Australia.
The engine is a 2.4 litre 32 valve V8 Mercedes-Benz FO 108V revving to 19,000rpm. McLaren will be using an ECU developed by McLaren Systems, nothing new there you might think, except this year all the teams will be using the same ECU as part of the FIA's new regulations.
The McLaren company was named after its founder, New Zealander Bruce McLaren and was started in 1967. Bruce raced for the team until the 2nd of June, 1970 when he was killed in a 170mph crash at Goodwood while testing the McLaren M8D Can Am car. Ron Dennis has been involved with the company since 1980 when the McLaren operations were forced to merge with Dennis' own motor racing company, this led to Dennis taking full control of McLaren.
Ron Dennis, Chairman & CEO, McLaren Group said: "The ultimate goal of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team is to fight for both the Drivers' and Constructors' World Championships. We are looking forward to another competitive season as we look to build on the momentum of last year. Every single member of the team has worked extremely hard since the end of the 2007 season to get the MP4-23 on track as soon as possible, to ensure we have the maximum amount of testing time available before the cars leave for Australia. We are all extremely pleased to have the opportunity to launch our new car at the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart underlining the strength of our partnership."
Will the McLaren MP4-23 be at the front of the field in 2008? Only time will tell, but it will certainly be up there if the McLaren team have their way.