The death of Venezuela’s longstanding president, Hugo Chávez, could have ramifications for Formula 1, and the country’s sole F1 driver Pastor Maldonado in particular.
Chávez, 58, passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. It had been clear for some time that he has been seriously ill, despite attempts by his socialist government to keep the news under wraps from much of the general population.
The country’s vice president, Nicolas Maduro, will take over the reins as the country’s interim president until a re-election is called within the next month, and there are no guarantees that Chávez’s party will be returned to power.
All of this could have serious ramifications for the motorsport community, where Chávez has been an active figure in promoting the country’s motorsport stars, including Maldonado, EJ Viso, Milka Duno and Johnny Cecotto Jr, often with the funding coming from the state-owned PDVSA oil conglomerate and its subsidiary Citgo.
Critics of the Chávez government have previously argued that these sponsorship deals didn’t serve the country’s interests, in addition to not being signed off in line with the country’s legal procedures.
With Maldonado hitting the F1 winner’s circle and Viso recently setting up a ‘Venezuelan’ IndyCar team, the country is certainly benefiting from the exposure from these two on the international stage.
The country’s next generation of rulers could well opt to try and pull the pin on Venezuela’s motorsport sponsorship deals, but given PDVSA’s longstanding – and rather watertight – deal with the Williams F1 team, it’s a deal that looks hard to wriggle out of.
Either way, Chávez’s death will create some uncertainty in the paddock over the course of the next few months…