McLaren Are the Manchester United of Formula 1 and Need Big-Name Arrival

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2014

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 11:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark and McLaren drives during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 11, 2014 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

McLaren are a team in crisis.

Having ended 2012 with one of the quickest cars on the grid, they lost star driver Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes.

Left without a truly top-level racer, they abandoned most of the core features of the 2012 car and tried to go radical for 2013. The result was the difficult MP4-28 and a long, miserable season which saw the team fail to score a podium for the first time since 1980.

They were fifth in the constructors' championship. They occupy the same position this season, with almost no hope of finishing higher up.

Improvements are starting to filter through, but there are no smiling faces in Woking just yet.

Ron is not amused.
Ron is not amused.Christopher Lee/Getty Images

There are plenty of parallels between McLaren and another famous British sporting team which has recently experienced a meteoric fall from grace.

Manchester United, one of the world's biggest and most successful football clubs, were crowned Premier League champions in May 2013.

But their legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson retired. New boss David Moyes failed to take the necessary steps to bolster the squad he inherited, and the players he did have performed well below their potential.

Louis van Gaal.
Louis van Gaal.Scott Heppell/Associated Press

Under Moyes' command the team laboured to a seventh-place finish in the Premier Leaguetheir worst position since 1990.

Both teams have embarked on a rebuilding spree, with movement at the very top of their hierarchies.

Man Utd sacked the unsuccessful Moyes and replaced him with Louis van Gaal. The Dutchman is their first ever manager from outside the British Isles.

McLaren got rid of struggling Martin Whitmarsh. His replacement, Eric Boullier of France, is the team's first non-British "team principal" (actually sporting director, but they're essentially the same job) since merging with Ron Dennis' Project Four Racing in 1981.

The "squads" have also received a makeover, with plenty of new faces coming in.

United brought in players with a proven record of successthe likes of Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw and Daley Blind, while also promoting youngster Tyler Blackett to the first team.

Others, like Nemanja Vidic and Javier Hernandez, left the club. Ryan Giggs moved into the management structure.

The McLaren drivers.
The McLaren drivers.Uncredited/Associated Press/Associated Press

McLaren too have made significant personnel acquisitions over the past year. Highly-rated former Red Bull aerodynamicist Peter Prodromou joins in September after a spell of gardening leave, with Ciaron Pilbeam already at McLaren working as chief race engineer.

Furthermore, the team stated in January they had brought in "more than a dozen top-level engineers from among the best teams in Formula One."

A change to the "playing staff" was also made. Kevin Magnussen replaced the departing Sergio Perez, while hugely promising youngster Stoffel Vandoorne was promoted to reserve driver.

And both have entered into new, highly lucrative partnerships.

The Red Devils signed a monstrous £750 million, 10-year deal with sportswear giant Adidas, while McLaren will next season begin a works partnership with engine supplier Honda.

Per Michael Schmidt of Auto Motor Und Sport (h/t grandprix247.com), this deal will be worth €100 million (around £80 million) per year to the team.

Though it will inevitably take time for the changes each has made to bear fruit, both should see real improvements by the start of 2015.

Alastair Grant/Associated Press

But one may see more improvements than the other.

While there are many similarities between the two, United have done one critical thing that McLaren have notthey have acquired some genuine class.

In the final days of the transfer window they added the icing to their big, red, optimistic cake of hope with the arrival of £59.7 million signing Angel Di Maria. The Argentinian winger is a player capable of changing games and raising team and club morale just by being on the pitch.

He can win matches all by himself, as can United's new loan signing, Colombian Radamel Falcao.

McLaren need someone like that driving the MP4-30 next season. A marquee signing, a big name, a proven world-class driver to tell the factory, pit lane and motoring world, "We are back."

Someone like Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso or Sebastian Vettel.

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