While the world is looking at Ferrari and pondering what will happen after Luca di Montezemolo steps down, there has been another key development in recent days that could have a major impact on the Italian team in the long term.
The death, at the age of 79, of Emilio Botín, the chairman of Santander, could turn out to be very significant indeed.
Under Botín, Santander expanded from being a major regional bank in Spain to become a global heavyweight with a market capitalisation of more than $120 billion. As part of that expansion Botín became one of the leading advocates of Formula 1 as a promotional tool.
Santander entered the sport in 2007 as the title sponsor of the British GP and a supporter of McLaren, which that year had just taken on Fernando Alonso.
The goal of the sponsorships was to increase the public awareness of the Santander brand in Britain as the bank consolidated the assets of the Abbey, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley companies under its banner.
Recognition of the Santander brand went from 20 per cent to 82 per cent in three years, and by 2013 had reached 94 per cent. With Alonso moving on to Ferrari in 2010 Botín decided to follow, while also continuing with McLaren, and announced a sponsorship deal with the Italian team as well as further sponsorships of individual grands prix.
The bank said that 75 per cent of its profits were generated from countries where F1 was present and was happy to use F1 to grow these markets. The current Ferrari deal runs until the end of 2017 and it remains to be seen whether Ana, Botín's daughter, who has taken over as the chairperson of Santander will continue to follow her father’s passion for the sport.
Major sponsorships are very often linked to the desires of a company's chairman: some like motor racing, some like golf or equestrian sports, and so sponsorships can and do change when there is a change of leadership.
Fernando Alonso may also play a part in that decision-making process. At the moment the F1 world is waiting for the Spaniard to decide on his future. He is deemed to be the best driver in F1 and so the entire driver market depends on his decision.
However, there seems to be an odd phenomenon going on at the moment as an announcement was expected at the Italian Grand Prix earlier this month and did not happen.
The latest thinking in F1 circles is that Ferrari’s new management is looking to build a team that will be able to win in a sustained way, just as it did between 1999 and 2008 when Ferrari won eight out of 10 constructors’ titles.
Alonso is a bit old for that and his apparent desire to switch to McLaren-Honda next year may have got Ferrari thinking. The best long-term bet for the team would probably be Sebastian Vettel, who is much younger than Alonso and is not as happy as he once was at Red Bull Racing.