Venezuela F1 driver flies flag for socialist Chavez

Thu Dec 9, 2010 2:09pm EST
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By Diego Ore

CARACAS (Reuters) - As an admirer and friend of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, new kid on the block Pastor Maldonado will bring a rare dash of socialism to the ultra-moneyed world of Formula One next season.

Maldonado, frequently pictured at Chavez's side including during a visit to flood victims this week, will race for former champions Williams in 2011 after winning this year's GP2 support series.

The 25-year-old told Reuters that sport and politics could mix happily together.

"Sport should not be kept away from politics, it should be supported, like happens in Venezuela," he said.

State oil company PDVSA, whose oil revenues have financed Chavez's decade-long "21st century socialism" experiment in the South American nation, is Maldonado's main local sponsor.

"We're backing Pastor Maldonado and his team via PDVSA, so he can race round the world and show what he's made of," the sports-loving Chavez said this week, recalling that he approved funding for the driver early on his career.

State phone company CANTV, which the ever-controversial Chavez nationalized in 2007, also backs Maldonado.

The driver has been feted as a national hero, and socialist symbol for the state, since securing the race seat.   Continued...