Lewis Hamilton has described McLaren-Mercedes' new Formula 1 car as 'absolutely stunning' - flying in the face of the expectations that with the dramatic new regulations in the top flight this year, the starting grid would be populated by a flock of ugly ducklings in 2009.

McLaren launched its new MP4-24 today at its Woking-based technology centre, with the machine - like its rivals - featuring heavily-revised bodywork, re-sculpted front and rear wings, slick tyres and a Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS). Hamilton admitted that he is desperate to get behind the wheel to begin the defence of his hard-fought drivers' crown.

"The arrival of a new car is always an emotional moment for any racing driver," the recently-turned 24-year-old confessed, "and the unveiling of the MP4-24 is even more special for me, not only because the car looks absolutely stunning but also because it carries the number one - world champions.

"I believe this year's world championship is open, given the new rule changes, and that's a great prospect for every Formula 1 fan. Personally, I'm hoping for another successful season and the chance to once again fight for the title - until the final race if necessary, but preferably before!"

The MP4-24 has been in development since September, 2007, and will take to the track for the first time in public at the Autodromo do Algarve circuit in Portugal on Monday (19 January). Team principal Ron Dennis admitted that a lot is resting upon the car's initial competitiveness - especially given the new ban on in-season testing - but is confident of adding the constructors' laurels to the drivers' honours in 2009 after missing out on dual glory last year.

"Despite our victory in the 2008 drivers' world championship, we have taken nothing for granted in our preparations for the season ahead," the 61-year-old stressed. "Indeed, if anything, our efforts to fully understand this period of huge regulatory change have been more thorough and concerted than ever before.

"While the scale of the technical changes makes it difficult to accurately assess the true competitive outlook of the year ahead, as a team we can feel proud of our efforts and look forward to another close season of Formula 1 motor racing. As ever, we exist to win and our target remains the successful acquisition of both this year's drivers' and constructors' world titles."

"Such profound changes to the sport make it difficult to predict which teams will have most successfully developed their cars for the new technical regulations," concurred McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh, the man tipped to eventually replace Dennis at the helm of the multiple world championship-winning concern.

"These rules have presented us with considerable challenges throughout the design process of the MP4- 24, but we have thoroughly interpreted all their ramifications in order to design a car we can feel proud of. We are also optimistic that the Overtaking Working Group's findings will help create a more thrilling and exciting sport that will provide greater entertainment and value to our biggest customers - the general public."