A few months ago I talked about Hugo Chavez's sponsorship of the venerable F1 team Williams. Despite its illustrious history, it's fallen on hard times as of late. Whether their coffers were empty because few want to be associated with a has-been or the other way around because they were not able to build a competitive car for want of cash, Williams' glory days appeared behind it. In this narrative, Williams only gave the Venezuelan Pastor Maldonaldo a race seat since he brought millions in sponsorship money via the state-owned oil firm PDVSA. Not that he's hiding the fact he's a "state-sponsored driver."
Or that's how the story went at least until yesterday. In a made-for-Hollywood script (cue the Rocky theme right about now), Pastor Maldonaldo who before yesterday managed to score championship points only on one occasion by finishing in the top 10 suddenly managed to beat two-time Spanish world champion Fernando Alonso at the Barcelona Grand Prix for a race victory. Hugo Chavez was naturally chuffed, exclaiming "I said so: Our Pastor Maldonado won, making history. Bravo Pastor! Congratulations to you and all your fighting team! We shall overcome!" on Twitter.
It's obvious that Williams remains a struggling outfit. While the other podium finishers Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus sported bespoke race suits, Pastor Maldonaldo sported one that looked homemade with obviously stitched-on sponsorship logos. The other two guys' cars were covered from nose to tail in corporate logos as well while the Williams had many stretches of paint save for lots of PDVSA decals and a few other sponsors.
Given the uppity nature of the sport, consider the implications of the Maldonaldo victory which is, in a larger sense, also a victory for Hugo Chavez and PDVSA:
- These Venezuelans take a huge swipe at other energy concerns who Hugo Chavez has tangled with in the past over populist measures. Expropriated ExxonMobil through McLaren-Mercedes was well and truly beaten. Whiny Shell through Ferrari was also put in its (second) place. F1 has traditionally been the preserve of massive global conglomerates like these that Hugo Chavez loves to hate, so I'm sure this fact is not lost on him. (Also consider the plight of that other Williams at Hugo's hands even if it isn't an F1 sponsor.)
- It goes a long way towards addressing the "paid driver" image that many including yours truly have of Maldonaldo. On a good day with competitive equipment, he's demonstrated that he can do as well as anyone else.
- And speaking of redemption, it validates Sir Frank Williams' decision to hire the controversial Mike Coughlan who was ousted from McLaren over spying on Ferrari. If there's anyone in the F1 paddock they will be looking to spy on this time around, it will be on Williams who've apparently done small miracles with a budget nowhere close to that of the big teams.
- Given Hugo Chavez's penchant for conspiracy theories alike blaming incidences of cancer among leftist Latin leaders including himself on the West, I am surprised that he hasn't tweeted about how gringo powers-that-be set the Williams garage on fire to warn against further Pastor Maldonaldo victories.