Used to keeping her eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes F1 a political melodrama, columnist Kate Walker weighs up the social cost of keeping certain drivers in the top flight...
Several weeks ago, I read that the Venezuelan government had taken over one of the country's toilet paper factories. So acute were the shortages in the Latin American country that the equitable redistribution of loo roll had become a matter of national importance.
Like most of the countries in our fair world, Venezuela has something of an issue with income disparity. But unlike, say India, Brazil, or the United Kingdom, Venezuela has a socialist government whose priority is supposed
to be financial equality for all.
Whatever their political leanings, governments tend to do one thing and say another. But nominally socialist governments have a tougher time of it than most – promising land, bread, and freedom, those in power often find themselves seduced by the perks of office while their electorate goes hungry. Such is the case in Venezuela, where recent weeks have seen ordinary people killed in fights over loaves of bread.
Basic services like electricity have become yet more unreliable, access to healthcare has gone from erratic to non-existent, inflation is currently running at over 45 percent, and the government is now dealing with internal schisms and a loss of support including – but not limited to – weeks of strikes at factories once devoted to Chavismo.
And while Nicolas Maduro is desperately trying to keep his government's head above water, thousands of miles away Pastor Maldonado is in talks with a number of teams about just how good of a F1 drive his PDVSA millions will buy. Claire Williams recently went on a crisis mission to Caracas to ensure the future of the PDVSA contract, while Maldonado is known to be in serious talks with Lotus, a team so in need of the Venezuelan's cash that they may well be forced to overlook Nico Hulkenberg's rather more impressive talent.
It is a messy situation, make no mistake.
But it is not for Maldonado to make a moral stand on his government's profligate spending. As a lone voice whose racing career has been wholly funded by the profits of Chavismo (and more than a little oil from what are perhaps the world's worst-managed reserves), the Venezuelan is hardly likely to speak out and bite the hand that has fed him for so many years.
As a self-interested individual – all F1 drivers are self-interested individuals, motivated by the need to compete and the desire to win – Maldonado thinks only of his own professional future. Whatever travesties might be taking place at home will only impact his racing career if the opposition successfully manages to argue that Pastor's petro-cash was illegally forced through the National Assembly.
Rather, the time has come for F1 to make a stand, to prioritise the basic human rights of your average Venezuelan over the tens of millions of dollars that Maldonado and his compatriots can bring to a team. In this era of openness and fairness, where good governance and transparency are buzzwords that have made it into the rarefied confines of the F1 paddock, the time has come for the teams to think beyond the short-term profits and into the long-term good that they can do.