Dropping oil prices may have an unexpected effect on Formula One fans’ favorite butt of jokes. The BBC reports that Renault (née Lotus) driver Pastor Maldonado may be out of a ride if sponsor PDVSA doesn’t cough up a $50 million payment ASAP.

PDVSA is Venezuela’s national oil company, and cheap fill-ups around the world mean that Venezuela’s oil-heavy economy is hurting for cash. Per the BBC, insiders say that the situation may have been leaked as a way to pressure PDVSA into coughing up the cash.

Advertisement

The driver lovingly referred to as “Crashtor” was originally sponsored by the state oil company under Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez under the guise of boosting Venezuela’s prestige, and current president Nicolas Maduro continued the sponsorship after Chavez’s death in 2013. Autosport reports that Maduro lost the support of Parliament after the December elections, which complicates the matter considerably.

Maduro just declared a 60-day economic emergency in response to Venezuela’s shortage of basic goods and soaring inflation rates, per the BBC’s latest report. Maduro will rule by decree for the next two months, but as he blames his political opposition for much of Venezuela’s economic strife, it is uncertain as to whether the center-right opposition coalition that controls Parliament will put up with that.

According to the BBC, if PDVSA doesn’t pay up soon, that seat will go to former McLaren driver Kevin Magnussen, who was given a tour of the Renault factory in Oxfordshire last week. Renault’s other driver, Jolyon Palmer, is reportedly set for the season. They just need to nail down the roster before a February media launch.

Renault is denying the rumors, of course. A team spokesman told the BBC:

It’s speculation at the moment. We have a contract with Pastor. That is the current situation.

Who knows what could happen by Australia but, at the moment, we are going forward with Pastor and Jolyon.

The BBC could not reach Maldonado’s manager Nicolas Todt for comment.

Renault was able to pick up the Lotus F1 team for a song and a dance because the courts felt as if the company would be able to pay off Lotus’ debts. Having $50 million less than expected before the season even starts is a significant snafu, and Crash.net reports Renault has previously suggested that Maldonado’s money was a contributing factor in their decision to pick up the team.

Advertisement

What would happen to Magnussen if Venezuela can pay for their driver to stay in F1? Well, Renault hasn’t announced a reserve driver yet, and The Telegraph reports that the reserve role would be Magnussen’s most likely role if Maldonado were sticking around.

Photo credit: Getty Images


Contact the author at stef.schrader@jalopnik.com.