According to the AFP today, Santander will join Ferrari in 2010. Many speculate that this is because of rumours of Fernando Alonso joining Ferrari, but I think that we shouldn't be too hasty in our conclusions.
I believe that the reason for this is that ever since tobacco advertising was banned in pretty much every country the Formula One circus travels to, there is a void to fill both financially and on the livery of the car itself. This void is being filled in by banks, telecommunications and IT companies, and airlines.
You see Vodafone is the title sponsor of McLaren when the title sponsor used to be Imperial Tobacco under the West brand, and Lenovo is currently sponsoring Williams.
Santander is indeed a Spanish bank, but its influence is not just within Spain. According to their website, Santander has branches in the UK, Portugal, Latin America, Europe, and Russia. It is expanding like many banks and businesses do.
The fact is that when Alonso moved into McLaren at the beginning of 2007, Santander sponsored McLaren, not the driver. When Alonso divorced his team, Santander stayed because their agreement was with McLaren and nothing in the contract said anything about this sponsorship being exclusively tied to Alonso.
However, if the case is true that the sponsorship was really linked to the nationality of the driver, then why is Marlboro the title sponsor for Ferrari until 2011 though there are no American drivers on the team?
Like ING at Renault, Santander probably realized the potential that F1 sponsorship had for their business.
Banking and Formula One are not a new matchup. HSBC sponsored the now defunct Jaguar, RBS and ING currently sponsor Williams and Renault respectively. But none of the drivers of the teams that were or are currently sponsored are or were Chinese, Scottish or Dutch, respectively.
I don't know much about what is happening behind closed doors. But I can say that sponsorship does not necessarily stem from a driver's or a team's nationality, though there are exceptions.
I think that it is too premature to jump the gun and say that because a Spanish bank is going to Ferrari, a Spanish driver will necessarily follow. Perhaps Santander just got a better deal with Ferrari.
Thank you to Ben Auty for the photograph.