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Mercedes Museum celebrates historic first launch

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For the first time in the history of Mercedes relationship with McLaren, Mercedes headquarters in Stuttgart was the location for the launch of their new Formula One challenger on Monday. Shunning the exaggerated glitz, pomp and Hollywood-style interludes of previous years, the event was a much-appreciated return to the basics of racing - the car was the star, as Formula One Management CEO Bernie Ecclestone put it.

Its a long way down history lane from the beginnings of the Daimler Motor Car company to the McLaren MP4-23. To be exact, 116 years have passed since Moulay Hassan I, the Sultan of Morocco, was Daimlers first customer - and the first monarch to own a gasoline-engined automobile. But on Monday, for one day, both cars coexisted under one roof at the Mercedes-Benz Museum - venue for the launch of the 2008 McLaren-Mercedes challenger.

Some weeks ago, following the controversies of last season, news circulated that there would be no official launch for the MP4-23 - just a testing rollout. But then Mercedes took up the initiative and decided to hold the presentation on their home turf. More than 115 years of automotive history cohabit together in the companys own museum. The exhibits serve as a time-travel machine, guiding visitors through the glory moments of automotive engineering, whilst the building itself provides a fascinating pointer to the future.

Its sublime architecture is based around a simple geometric figure of three loops that turn endlessly around each other, rather like the three-leafed structure of the nearby road intersection. Instead of redirecting outwards, however, the museum routes unwind slowly down a timeline that guides the visitor through nine levels - from the innovation of the original automobile to present-day reality in the entrance hall.

An outer skin of aluminium and glass lends the building an air of transparency and weightlessness. A sophisticated lighting concept - incorporating 12,000 lights - ensures that all 1,500-plus exhibits are displayed to maximum effect.

The MP4-23 was in good company: the 1935 Grand Mercedes Pullman limousine - the chrysanthemums on the doors reveal the owner of the car, the Japanese Emperor Hirohito, who received it in 1935; the 1958 190SL of the Ismaili ruler Karim Aga Khan; the 1965 600 Pullman state limousine that for more than 30 years carried kings, chancellors and presidents on state visits; the 1980 230G ‘Popemobile built for John Paul II; and of course the predecessors of the MP4-22 - Rudolf Caracciolas original Silver Arrow from the mid 1930s and Mika Hakkinens MP4-13, the world championship-winning car of 1998.

Joining the prestigious cars on Monday were some equally prestigious guests: Baden Wuerthembergs Minister President Guenther Oettinger, Bernie Ecclestone and the British Ambassador to Germany, Sir Michael Arthur were among those who accepted the invitation of Dr Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of Daimler AG.

As temporary exhibit 1501 was rolled onto the stage, followed by its four drivers - Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen, Pedro de la Rosa and Gary Paffett - a muted rendition of ‘Happy Birthday was audible, getting stronger by the second. It was Lewis Hamiltons 23rd birthday - quite fitting given the new cars 23 denomination and the fact that the young Brits race number this year will also be 23. A good omen for the championship ahead perhaps?

And what brought Formula One Managements CEO to Stuttgart? “Its the first time it ever happened that a car launch took place at the Mercedes headquarters - and that is good,” said Bernie Ecclestone. “The museum is fantastic, though I am not sure this car should be in a museum because it is very much a car of tomorrow, but I think the whole idea was very, very good as it puts the car in the middle of the action - the car is the star again,” he added, before disappearing into the depths of the museum to compare the exhibits with his own collection.

And was Dr Zetsche satisfied with the event? “Its the start of a near year, of a new season - and that we can kick it off here in Stuttgart is a fantastic feeling,” he said. “And the place is just right, as the core of our museum revolves around our motorsport history and to have our latest challenger here is somehow logical. Do we plan this to become a habit? Lets wait and see how the reactions are. We will then evaluate them. But today it felt great.”


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