McLaren-Mercedes looks likely to have to use an updated version of its 2010 car in the first pre-season F1 2011 group test in Valencia at the beginning of next month, after disclosing the launch date for its new MP4-26 challenger.

The Woking-based outfit has revealed that it will unveil its 2011 contender in Berlin on 4 February - the day after the conclusion of the three-day Spanish outing around the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, and suggesting the team will still be running with the MP4-25 in the preceding test before debuting its successor at Jerez a week later on 10 February.

That is at odds with the likes of Ferrari, Renault, Sauber and Scuderia Toro Rosso - all of whom will launch pre-Valencia, the latter three at the circuit itself - but follows a trend set by Red Bull Racing in recent seasons, in allowing for the maximum in terms of development time before the car hits the track.

It is an approach that Force India F1 has similarly announced it intends to follow this year [see separate story - click here]. McLaren's two chief rivals Red Bull and Ferrari are both expected to head to Valencia with their new machines.

The current confirmed F1 2011 launches are: Ferrari, final week of January, Italy; Renault and Sauber, 31 January, Valencia; Scuderia Toro Rosso, 1 February, Valencia; McLaren, 4 February, Berlin.

The F1 2011 World Championship campaign will rev into life with the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir on 13 March.

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