March 6th, 2013 (F1plus /Chris Cameron-Dow). - Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez died on Tuesday after battling with cancer. He was 58 years old. A 7-day period of mourning has been announced for the deceased leader while the country prepares for an election to choose his successor.
"Long live democracy!" Pastor Maldonado, who was a personal friend of the late Chavez, had exclaimed on Twitter in celebration of Chavez's recent re-election as Venezuelan president.
But in the last years and weeks, 58-year-old Chavez has been battling cancer, and his death has now triggered a presidential election that must be held within 30 days.
"Viva Chavez," Maldonado said on Twitter following Chavez's death on Tuesday, "I join in the deep pain of all Venezuelans."
Maldonado, winner of the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix for Williams, raced with the financial backing of Chavez through Venezuelan state-owned oil and gas giant PDVSA. The company’s name appears on the side of the 2013 Williams FW35 and the top of the main plane of the rear wing, while “Venezuela” is printed on the back of the rear wing. Maldonado’s place at Williams was initially at least partly a result of the sponsorship deal with PDVSA, which has bolstered the Williams budget for the last two seasons.
In the wake of Chavez’s passing, it is not clear what will happen to Maldonado’s financial backing, and the future of the relationship between Williams and PDVSA is similarly murky. There is no immediate reason for concern in the Maldonado/Williams camp, as the contracts in place will likely be honoured by the Venezuelan parastatal. But it could be that Williams and Maldonado will find themselves looking for additional sponsorship in the future, unless Chavez’s successor is similarly keen on supporting motor racing talent.
Maldonado has, of course, proven himself in Formula One racing, winning the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix from pole position in what was a mature, measured and professional performance. His stated aim for 2013 is to win races in the car he describes as “my best Williams yet”. Whether or not he can achieve that aim will only begin to become clear when the first race of the season gets underway next week in Melbourne.