Spanish savings banks have been involved in Grand Prix racing since the start of the Dorna era in 1992, when the Banesto bank set up the Spanish racing promoter and then backed its investment in purchasing the TV broadcasting rights of the Road Racing World Championship from the FIM, in partnership with F1 promoter Bernie Ecclestone’s Two Wheels Promotions company.
Banesto had already been the sponsor of 250 double world champion Sito Pons’ team when the Spanish squad was trying to make a name for itself in the 500 class at the start of the Nineties. Since then, many other Spanish banks have been been involved in Grand Prix racing activities but, in a kind of strange irony, speaking about certain Spanish financial institutions in recent times means talk not about money, but rather about the lack of it.
With a number of Spanish regional banks such as Bankia and Catalunya Caixa becoming an important part of Grand Prix racing as sponsors, the news over the past few weeks about Bankia needing the help of the Spanish government to the tune of more than 20 billion euros – as Catalunya Caixa will do as well in the very near future - , has brought into question their continuing in the world championship as sponsors not only of the Spanish Bankia Aspar racing team, with riders in MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3, but also of the Catalunya Caixa team, contesting Moto2 and Moto3.
The Bankia bank became the Aspar 125 team’s title sponsor in 2011 with champion Nico Terol, as a part of an earlier sponsorship agreement between Valencia’s regional bank Bancaja and Spanish former 80 and 125 class world champion Jorge Martinez’s team. But all that happened before Bancaja, Caja Madrid and five other Spanish saving banks merged to become Bankia, in order to satisfy new capital requirements from the European Union and the Spanish Government in 2010. Similarly, Catalunya Caixa was formed in 2011 after the merger of Caixa Catalunya, Caixa Manresa and Caixa Tarragona, all regional saving banks in Catalonia, with the same goal in mind. One of the first marketing measures taken to promote the new Catalunya Caixa brand was to give full sponsorship backing to the 2010 125 world champion and rising star Marc Márquez for the Spaniard’s new Moto2 adventure in 2011.
Saving banks in Spain have experienced massive losses on their balance sheets in the past few years. The main reason can be found in the collapse of the construction business in the country – also know as a “property bubble” - , but some blame can also be attached to the irresponsible actions taken by the managing boards for those same regional banks, those boards consisting of local politicians, employees and labor unions, and even appointees of the Catholic Church as a national institution. Unfortunately, only a very few of those irresponsible actions that have resulted in public funds being needed have been taken to court yet. But the big question for racing fans is how could all of this affect Grand Prix racing?
That’s a difficult question to answer, but a quite easy one to guess at the same time. Motomatters.com has contacted both Bankia Aspar and Emilio Alzamora’s Catalunya Caixa teams, in order to find out each team’s point of view on these outside affairs and their vision for a future extension of their individual sponsorship deals for 2013, but both of them have refused to make any comment to several different but related questions we put to them.
It is also worth noting that, in economic terms, the merging of saving banks has not proved to be an ideal solution either, and suspicion is growing that the governing councils of the newly formed savings banks already knew that they were going to need even more money –public money-, in order to absorb their projected future losses in the real estate market. So the immediate question could be whether the savings banks already knew at the time they were planning their sponsorship of Grand Prix racing what was going to come. Theoretically, at least, the answer to this question should be “yes”.
What we do know from a source close to Marquez’s team, who unfortunately cannot be named, is that Catalunya Caixa has already paid Marquez’s Moto2 sponsorship for 2011 and 2012, having paid in full last year. So the team should continue to run without problems for the current season, but the question of whether the team will have Catalunya Caixa support again in 2013 remains unanswered. And something similar can be said about the future of Bankia on the fairings of the Aspar team in 2013.
We do not know whether there any sponsorship agreements have already been signed between these teams and the savings banks for 2013, but if they were to exist, public opinion in Spain would likely regard it as highly controversial. Both Bankia and Catalunya Caixa will need more public money again soon to save them from default, while in the mean time the Spanish government is announcing more and more cuts in public services such as education and health. In an already critical economic atmosphere in Spain at the moment, the continuing controversy surrounding Spanish banks is sure to affect one of the already few sponsorship sources in Grand Prix racing. More news as it happens.
Story written by Venancio Luis Nieto and Pablo Torralbo