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Formula 1 Team Uses 175-Mile-Per-Hour Billboard to Find Sponsors

Formula 1 Team Uses 175-Mile-Per-Hour Billboard
Hispania Racing drivers Vitantonio Liuzzi of Italy (R) and Narain Karthikeyan of India (L) are seen alongside team owner Jose Ramon Carabante at the unveil of the new F111 Hispania Racing car. Photographer: Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Spain’s Hispania Formula One team is using a 175-mile-per-hour billboard to drum up sponsors as its cars race through the glitzy streets of Monaco this weekend.

The team has failed to snag a main corporate backer in its second season in the world’s most-watched racing series. Its cars in the Monaco Grand Prix in two days will feature ‘This Could Be You’ signs to lure support as the economic slump at home makes it harder to find a sponsor.

Team owner Jose Ramon Carabante said he is using his own funds to cover part of its 50 million-euro ($71 million) budget. Spain is struggling to emerge from a three-year economic slump and has a 21 percent unemployment rate, the highest in Europe. Carabante said he hopes confidence in the team, which has a former economy minister on its advisory board, rises among potential backers the longer Hispania survives.

“We’re still alive, which in these times is no small feat,” Carabante said in an interview. “The car’s message is striking but we hope it disappears soon.”

Many Formula One teams are having difficulty finding sponsors as companies don’t see the series as environmentally friendly, according to Adam Parr, chairman of Grove, England-based Williams, whose main backer is AT&T Inc. Red Bull GmbH bankrolls the champion team of the same name, while Vodafone Group Plc sponsors McLaren.

Carabante, 59, said his team is in talks with two Spanish companies about sponsorship, without identifying them. He is also steering his Murcia-based real estate company, Grupo Hispania, through the fallout of a housing market collapse. Earlier this year, he agreed to about 400 million euros of debt refinancing for the company, Carabante added.

Finance Director

The company’s finance director is Miguel Boyer, who was Spain’s economy minister from 1982 to 1985. Boyer is also an adviser to the Formula One team along with investors Alberto Cortina and Alberto Alcocer, business partners and former husbands to the Koplowitz sisters, two of Spain’s richest women.

Hispania relied on drivers Narain Karthikeyan of India and Italy’s Vitantonio Liuzzi to bring minor sponsorship deals to the team this season. The team also gets a $10 million share of the series television rights from London-based Formula One Management Ltd., Carabante said.

The drivers were unable to qualify for the opening race in Melbourne in March and Karthikeyan was lapped five times at last weekend’s race in Barcelona. Liuzzi didn’t finish because of a gearbox problem.

The team’s commitment is unquestionable, Carabante said. Mechanics had twice worked through the night leading up to the May 22 event to get the cars ready.

“We have staff who when we need to work 10 hours instead of eight they do it,” Carabante said. “If they have to work 24 hours-a-day, then they do that too.”

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