McLaren is bracing itself for a battle over the legality of its new MP4-27, which is expected to feature design innovations that could potentially attract protests from rivals.
According to McLaren Applied Technologies managing director Geoff McGrath, the new car, which will be officially revealed on Wednesday, will feature a number of developments that are the result of the team's aim to be less conservative in the interpretation of the Formula 1 regulations than it has been in previous years.
"There are technical innovations on the car which will be immediately obvious when you see them," said McGrath, who added that McLaren is "getting ready for a fight" over its new machine.
McGrath admitted that McLaren has paid the price for being overly cautious in previous seasons. The team has finished behind Red Bull in the constructors' championship in the past three years and must start the season strongly if it is to end that run.
"We've started way behind in the last couple of years – that's the really disappointing thing," he said. "But when we're behind, you can see that historically we always catch up faster than anyone else. Until we go to the first test in Jerez [which starts on Feb. 7], the engineers won't know for sure if they got it right."
It is understood that McLaren is focusing on single-lap speed with the MP4-27, which it hopes will allow it to take more pole positions and control races from the front.
McGrath added that beating qualifying master Sebastian Vettel will be crucial if McLaren is to be successful in 2012, particularly as its analysis indicated that the raw pace of last year's MP4-26 was superior toward the end of the season, despite Red Bull and Vettel's run of poles.
"He must be a brilliant driver, because by the end of last season we definitely had the best car and he was still whupping us," McGrath said. "We're trying to figure out exactly what he's doing that's so good. How does he pull out that fast qualifying lap every time? We think it's driver skill. There's no trickery on the cars, he just gets more out of it than we do."