Undeterred by the two week head-start that many of its rivals have gained since launching their 2012 F1 contenders ahead of the Jerez test, the Mercedes AMG Petronas team finally took the wraps off its own contender in the pit-lane at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya.

Combining the event with the first public preview of the brand-new Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG, Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher pulled back the covers to unveil the Brackley-based team's third F1 creation since taking over the reins of the championship-winning Brawn GP operation in 2010.

The latest Silver Arrow, officially title the F1 W03, underwent an intensive programme of simulation testing at the team's technical bases in Brackley and Brixworth, before being shaken down during a 'filming day' at Silverstone last week. With that outing limited to 100km, but with a day in hand following the early finish to its Jerez test programme, the team took the opportunity to conduct a private test day in Barcelona on Sunday [19 February], during which the car ran for 354km with both Schumacher and Rosberg taking turns at the wheel.

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Despite rumours, stemming from leaked 'teaser' images, suggesting that Mercedes had followed McLaren's lead when it came to the front-end treatment of the car, it was clear at the launch that it had instead adopted the more common 'stepped' nose concept seen on the rest of the 2012 cars unveiled so far.

The new car is based on a largely stable set of technical regulations, albeit with changes to the front end heights and the siting of the exhausts, designed to prevent the aerodynamic benefit gained from exhaust gases during 2011.

"The F1 W03 is a car that I believe, and hope, our team can be proud of, and which will deliver the on-track results that everybody has worked so hard to achieve," team principal Ross Brawn commented, "Notwithstanding the distinctive nose design, which is certainly an acquired taste, the F1 W03 is an elegant interpretation of the current regulations, and a clear step forward over its predecessor in terms of detail design and sophistication."

The F1 W03 project was begun in May 2011 and is the first full car produced by a technical team that was strengthened last year with recruitments at every level of the organisation. The car, which is composed of some 4500 parts compared to 4300 parts in 2011, has nevertheless achieved a lower core weight than its predecessor, is better packaged and more efficient. All mandatory FIA crash tests had been successfully completed at the first attempt by the end of the first week of January 2012.

"Last year, we produced a very bold car and, although its more radical elements didn't always deliver the results we had hoped for, the experience we gained has been invaluable to the design of the 2012 car," Brawn continued, "The F1 W03 is also a more integrated package, which reflects the ever-strengthening ties between our technical teams in Brackley and Brixworth, and demonstrates that our Silver Arrows works team is taking the next step forward in terms of on-track performance."