You do raise a valid point in regards to allowing the press to touch it, but if you consider that the most sensitive parts of the car to damage, the front and rear wings are likely to be changed for the first test, and that it probably doesn't have all the internals in, or the proper exhaust attached, than I don't see why McLaren wouldn't allow it. The car will be stripped down anyway and rebuilt in Jerez (like at every other GP) with the new parts, I fully agree that it probably isn't a complete car but I do think it is something more than a mock up (although reading your post again, I do feel we're both somewhat converging on the same point of view anyway)
What would they do with the other test car anyway? AFAIA teams can only use 60% scale wind models, or CFD to design the cars along with other processes (simulator ect) but the actual car itself i assume only gets added to and plays no role in development except for when its on track. I do agree however they are likely to have other chassis.
Well, it's not that they have another test car, its that they built a mock up for the press out of development bits - so much of the car would have been locked last year (due to regs etc) that they can safely build more than one instance of the part - also, they will need parts in case of the driver stuffing the car at the first test, or parts failures etc. So, rather than lose preparation time for a press event, they simply have one of the race teams assemble a mock up which is then broken down for its parts immediately afterwards?
As I said, I am likely wrong in this - but it does explain why the car on the first day of testing always looks different.
edit: Also, looking at that slider posted, a few of the parts on the car look like 2012 spec parts - the airbox cover for instance. Again, this would suggest that this is not the test car.
Edited by MirNyet, 31 January 2013 - 19:24.