ABU DHABI • Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff and the Formula One team's non-executive chairman Niki Lauda walked hand-in-hand in the Abu Dhabi paddock yesterday in response to reports that a bitter divide between the two threatened to throw the Silver Arrows' dominance off track.
The joking gesture came after the two Austrians, attending a meeting of engine manufacturers, had expressed some surprise at rumours of a perceived rift at the top of a dominant team celebrating retaining both world championships.
British media reported that Lauda, a three-time world champion and stakeholder in the team, could walk out after today's season-ending race at the Yas Marina circuit.
Mercedes insiders dismissed the reports, one light-heartedly pointing out that the two bosses were as much joined at the hip as the hand.
ABU DHABI GP GRID
1 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes
2 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes
3 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari
4 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India
5 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull
6 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams
7 Nico Huelkenberg (Ger) Force India
8 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams
9 Daniil Kvyat (Rus) Red Bull
10 Carlos Sainz Jr (Esp) Toro Rosso
12 Jenson Button (Gbr) McLaren
16 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari
17 Fernando Alonso (Esp) McLaren
Others pointed the finger at "mischief-making" by Red Bull principal Christian Horner and Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who is also close to Lauda, as part of tough negotiations over engines.
Former champions Red Bull had sought Mercedes engines after falling out with Renault but were rebuffed, with the Mercedes worried about helping a rival to beat them.
With Ferrari and Honda also rejecting approaches, Red Bull are now expected to continue with Renault-provided engines.
"We have an agreement in place for next year... but unfortunately due to circumstances beyond our control we can't announce exactly what that is," Horner had said on Friday.
"Perhaps Toto can tell you," he added mischievously, the Austrian sitting next to him in the FIA news conference.
Lauda, despite his Mercedes allegiances, is a friend of Red Bull's billionaire owner Dietrich Mateschitz.
He had gone to see Mateschitz in the early stages of Red Bull's approach for an engine supply and has said he was supportive - for the sake of a sport suffering waning interest because of Lewi Hamilton's domination of the past two seasons. But he denied ever shaking hands on a deal.
In any case, Wolff - who does not want any intrusion on Mercedes' superiority - had vetoed Lauda's agreement.
The Silver Arrows achieved another front-row lockout at the season- ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix yesterday, with Nico Rosberg producing one of the best laps of his career to snatch his sixth straight pole.
The German, who was trailing, outpaced his team-mate and newly crowned three-time world champion Hamilton by 0.377 seconds with his final effort in a closely-fought twilight session under floodlights.
Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari qualified third. Sergio Perez was fourth-fastest for Force India ahead of Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull, Valtteri Bottas of Williams, Nico Hulkenberg of Force India and Felipe Massa in the second Williams.
REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX
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