Despite having its fingers burned by its involvement with the short-lived Lola programme in the mid-1990s, MasterCard is rumoured to be considering a return to Formula One.
According to respected F1 journalist Joe Saward, the credit card company has been talking to several teams about a potential sponsorship deal, with Renault
apparently heading the list of possible partners. Although various financial giants have come and gone from F1 in the 15 years since MasterCard's last involvement, the US-owned brand is considering adding motorsport to a burgeoning sponsorship portfolio, despite its previous appearance lasting but a single race.
Such was the temporary nature of Lola's participation in the 1997 season, the team does not always appear on entry lists, but the programme provided a salutary lesson on how not to go about an F1 programme.
Team principal Eric Broadley decided to expand Lola's F1 involvement beyond that of chassis supplier, testing its own chassis in 1995 before opting to hasten a planned 1998 entry to join the 1997 field, claiming pressure from sponsors to do so. The T97/30 was based largely on Lola's successful IndyCar technology, but barely tested before appearing at the Australian GP, with rookies Ricardo Rosset and Vincenzo Sospiri at the wheel, due to delays in its engine supply.
Resplendent in predominantly orange-and-white MasterCard livery, and with Ford Zetec-R power in place of the anticipated Melling powerplant, the car never left the bottom of the timesheets, such was the deficit to those ahead of it. Sospiri was five seconds shy of making the 107 per cent cut-off limit, with Rosset a further second back, and, having not made the grade first time out, never even took to the track at round two in Brazil when problems with MasterCard's innovative 'fan club' fund-raising initiative meant that there was precious little money to continue.
Some £6m in debt, Lola changed hands and was never close to returning to F1 until the FIA opened up the entry list for 2010. Despite the British constructor being overlooked in favour of Lotus, HRT, Virgin and, laughably, US F1, however, MasterCard is now apparently on course to return to the top flight.
The company already indulges in sports sponsorship via the UEFA Champions League, Major League Baseball, New Zealand rugby Australian cricket amongst others, and is targeting global expansion, notably into Asian markets frequented by F1, following changes in the personnel heading up the company. New president and CEO Ajay Banga also brings an Indian influence to the company just as F1 targets a race in his homeland.