The West McLaren Mercedes teams new Formula One car - the MP4-18, will make its testing debut tomorrow [Wednesday] at the Paul Ricard circuit, in the South of France.

Third Driver Alexander Wurz will drive the MP4-18 during the course of the three-day test session. The details of the race introduction of the new car will be confirmed at a later date once the car has fulfilled the team's expectations with regard to reliability and speed.

The Paul Ricard test will also see West McLaren Mercedes drivers David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen continue the development of the 17-D together with test driver Pedro de la Rosa.

Martin Whitmarsh, Managing Director, McLaren International, commented: "There is an obvious sense of expectancy when you run a new car for the first time, a feeling which is perhaps heightened this year as we believe the MP4-18 will represent a significant step forward for the West McLaren Mercedes team.

"Our long-term strategy is to re-establish the team as a consistent winner, through increasing overall competitiveness and reliability. To achieve this demands significant, rather than incremental, steps. One such step was to provide the design teams at McLaren International and Mercedes-Benz, with the opportunity to develop the MP4-18 and the new engine in a time frame which allowed greater innovation whilst managing technical risk.

"This approach extends to the race introduction of the MP4-18, which has yet to be finalised and will not take place until we are in the position where the transition between the MP4-17D and the new car will be seamless."

The MP4-18 incorporates a number of visible differences. These include a shorter and lower nose, a more tightly packaged rear and a slight dorsal fin shaping to the engine cover.

Adrian Newey, McLaren's Technical Director, noted: "The MP4-18 marks the third year working with technical regulations that have remained fairly stable, and this stability can have the tendency to slow the rate of progress. However, with the approach that has been taken to the development process of the MP4-18, we, in collaboration with our colleagues at Mercedes-Benz, have been able to push the design as far as we can, to endeavour to achieve a significant performance gain.

"This car has probably had more research put into it than any other car I have worked on. There are clearly visible developments to the car, such as the shorter, lower nose and the rear end. However myself, Mike Coughlan [Chief Designer], Neil Oatley [Executive Director of Engineering], and the entire design team have particularly focused on the packaging of the car. The MP4-18 is generally much smaller than its predecessor, and is quite tightly packed to achieve this. We have included some developments that aim to improve the aerodynamic efficiency, we have further increased attention to detail, and used some advanced materials in its construction.

"The MP4-18 is the first car designed specifically to maximise the performance of the Michelin tyres, and it has also been exclusively aerodynamically designed in our wind tunnel at the McLaren Technology Centre. Our simulation results look promising, in terms of the MP4-18's performance step over the MP4-17D, but by definition simulation is not always 100 percent accurate, so we have the usual sense of excitement and expectation before running the new car this week at Paul Ricard."

In addition the new Mercedes-Benz engine, the FO 110P V10, has been lowered within the car, producing centre of gravity benefits.

Norbert Haug, Vice President, Mercedes-Benz, said: "The FO 110P V10 is completely new. The engine has been purpose built for the MP4-18 to form an integral part of the car. Everybody at Mercedes-Ilmor in Brixworth and Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart have been working extremely hard developing the new engine as well as further improving the FO 110M V10 which is currently being run in MP4-17D. With the FO 110P we intend to take a further step forward to contribute efficiently to the competitiveness of the overall package."

The MP4-18's programme at the Paul Ricard test will see the team focusing on systems, aerodynamic and components evaluation. After the first test, the West McLaren Mercedes team will continue the car's development schedule and once the initial programme has been completed, David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen will take over.

The MP4-18 is the seventh car to appear in the distinctive West McLaren Mercedes livery, introduced at the 1997 Australian Grand Prix, which saw the first victory for the partnership.

In the 106 Grands Prix since then, the team has secured 33 race wins, two Drivers' and one Constructors' World Championships.