Lewis Hamilton could be set to play a crucial role in the McLaren team’s efforts to beat off a bid from arch-rivals Ferrari to persuade one of their major Formula One sponsors to change camps for the 2010 season.

Santander, the Spanish bank which has been sponsoring McLaren to the tune of more than $30m for the past two seasons, has been courted for some months by Ferrari who are anxious to secure extra resources in preparation for the departure of their longtime sponsors Marlboro, the Philip Morris cigarette brand, at the end of next year.

Originally it was thought that Santander had backed McLaren simply because they had signed a Spanish driver in Fernando Alonso and that they were considering a switch to Ferrari  as the double world champion would also be moving to the Italian team. 

However with Ferrari having recently extended Kimi Raikkonen’s contract until the end of 2010 it seems there’s less chance of getting Alonso to Maranello.