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3, 2, 1... launch!

Shining a spotlight at the ever-evolving nature of our car launches

Ahhh, car launch… The nervousness, the feverish excitement, that sense of unbridled anticipation. It’s a special time of year, where the world gets to feast its eyes on what Formula 1 teams have to offer for the season ahead.

However, lavishly revealing a brand-new Formula 1 car is now about as fashionable as Myspace – for anyone born in the twenty-first century that’s a social networking site.

It means that this annual occurrence of rebirth at the pinnacle of motorsport is paradoxically met with a sense of nostalgia, as the most extravagant and sometimes strange launches have left an indelible mark on hearts and minds… and marketing budgets.

From the Spice Girls to building a car in Berlin, and everything in between – including Nigel Mansell’s posterior – we’ve certainly played our part.

With the launch of MCL35 approaching, here’s a countdown of our most memorable unveilings:


While the 1981 launch itself was far from a game changer compared to what would follow in the years ahead, the car itself was. Light, strong and a huge leap forward for safety, the John Barnard-designed MP4/1 was the first car to feature a carbon composite monocoque chassis. It set the trend for the cars that would follow in Formula 1 and laid the groundwork for material innovation that has become a hallmark of McLaren.


McLaren first sported papaya orange in 1968. The colour has been synonymous with our success across Formula 1, Indy 500 and Can-Am. At its launch, the MCL33 spectacularly revived the distinctive colour in a refreshing new way – much to the delight of fans who had clamoured for its return.


The radical MP4/10 was unveiled at London’s Science Museum. It was the first McLaren to feature Mercedes power and grabbed everyone’s attention with a host of innovations which included a distinctive ‘needle nose’ and a small wing mounted on the airbox – not too dissimilar to the T-wings which became prevalent in 2017. Unfortunately, the car is remembered more for Nigel Mansell’s struggle to squeeze his somewhat portly frame into the cockpit, than for on-track success.


How do you celebrate the most exciting driver line-up on the grid in the form of double world champion Fernando Alonso and junior single-seater star Lewis Hamilton, as well as a new title sponsor? Bring a large chunk of downtown Valencia to a standstill for a lavish street festival at which to unveil the MP4-22, and then let the drivers loose behind the wheel of its predecessor – the MP4-21. Simple really.


With many rivals launching their cars at the first pre-season test, we were brave and assembled the MP4-26 in Berlin. Four mechanics wheeled a half-built chassis into the capital’s Potsdamer Platz, and members of the public were called upon to bring anything from sidepods to the nose cone through the crowds for assembly. As the car took shape, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button applied the finishing touches, with a headrest and steering wheel.


Look up ‘showmanship’ in the dictionary and don’t be surprised to find a picture of our 1997 launch. The MP4-12 was extravagantly welcomed into the world at London’s Alexandra Palace, with the help of the Spice Girls, Jamiroquai and plenty of dry ice. There was good reason for all the glitz and glamour. ’97 was a new dawn for the team as we waved goodbye to red and white and said “hello” to silver and black, while Adrian Newey set about designing our 1998 title-winning machine.