McLaren took the wraps off the car it hopes will return either Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton to the top of the F1 standings in a unique event attended by hundreds of race fans in Berlin's famous Potsdamer Platz.

In contrast to the majority of its rivals, who revealed their cars on the eve of the first group test of 2011 in the warmth of Valencia at the start of the week, the Woking team brought together members of the public to construct the new MP4-26 chassis in one of the more bizarre - and drawn-out - launches of recent time.

After being wheel into the public space that sits on the fringe of the old Berlin Wall, the car was built up by dozens of Vodafone competition winners, fans and customers, who carried components into the arena and handed them to a handful of McLaren mechanics, who gradually pieced the car together in front of both a huge crowd and cameras that not only streamed the event live, but also gave eagle-eyed members of the opposition a chance to see under its skin.

"I think today's innovative launch demonstrates the enthusiasm within Vodafone McLaren Mercedes to engage the general public, to show them that our sport is intense and exciting, and that we're very keen to showcase F1 to the wider world," team principal Martin Whitmarsh commented, "Through the efforts of FOTA, we really want broaden the sport's appeal while also introducing innovative and energy-conscious new ideas that will simultaneously improve racing and help generate new technologies within the motor industry."

The 15-minute mini-drama culminated with Hamilton and Button arriving with headrest and steering wheel respectively to complete the car to cheers from the audience, no doubt happy to see matters progressing in the chilly temperatures.....

Looking radically different from last year's race-winning chassis, the MP4-26 features a range of aerodynamic details designed to take advantage of the new rules limiting the amount of downforce that can be derived from the car's underbody. These most notably include distinctive U-shaped sidepods, which will feed air more efficiently to the car's rear-end, and an electronically-adjustable rear wing, which has been introduced for 2011 to increase the potential for overtaking.

Beneath the skin, the car houses an all-new electric hybrid system expected to further the team's success with KERS technology. McLaren, along with engine partner Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines, became the first F1 team to win a grand prix using a hybrid device in 2009, when Hamilton triumphed in Hungary.

"I'm hopeful that F1 stands poised on the cusp of an incredible new era," Whitmarsh continued, "With Lewis and Jenson, we have two of the most exciting, charismatic and high-profile personalities in the sport, and the whole team feels a powerful sense of responsibility to provide them with the very best machinery with which to showcase their very evident talents to the world.

"The MP4-26 is the result of an incredible amount of hard work, innovative thinking and dynamic teamwork. Under the leadership of [technical director] Paddy Lowe, [engineering director] Tim Goss and [director of design and development programmes] Neil Oatley, our design department is more integrated than ever. In fact, I'm particularly proud of the contributions made by our project engineers, many of whom have taken on leadership roles for the very first time and who had worked so well together to create this very striking and individual-looking car."

Despite running its old MP4-25 in the opening test earlier this week, Whitmarsh is confident that McLaren can hit the ground running in Jerez next week, even though he refused to make any early predictions as to the MP4-26's potential.

"While we're all hopeful of once more adding to our tremendous record in F1, this sport is so unpredictable and finely pitched at the moment that it's impossible to accurately forecast the state of play until the season starts next month," he insisted, "That's a tantalising prospect for F1's many millions of existing fans - and, I hope, something that will attract many millions more by the end of what looks set to be an absolutely fantastic year."

Test and reserve driver Gary Paffett will shake down the MP4-26 in a private session at the Idiada Proving Ground in Spain on Tuesday, before the team begins track testing at the Circuito de Jerez on Thursday.