MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff jokingly wished former Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone a happy 92nd birthday on Saturday -- the Briton actually turned 87 -- and marveled at his continuing ability to kick up a controversy.
“He’s the only one who is able to sit on the other side of the world and throw a hand grenade and it actually lands in the paddock,” said Austrian Wolff.
“And I like it.”
Ecclestone, who was ousted when the sport’s new owners Liberty Media took over in January and now has an emeritus chairman position, is not in Mexico for what promises to be a title-deciding race on Sunday.
However, he has created waves from a distance with comments to Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper suggesting Ferrari had been favored historically and that helping the Italian team was “the smartest thing to do”.
“The teams are important to F1, but Ferrari is more than that. So many things have been done over the years that have helped Ferrari to win,” said Ecclestone.
He also suggested that Mercedes had helped Ferrari become more competitive while also ensuring Red Bull did not have the most powerful engines.
Wolff laughed off that suggestion.
“These stories are fantastic and I’ve missed them a little bit,” he said.
“I’ve missed the hand grenades and the pop-up meetings and the crisis situation and the rule and divide.”
Red Bull principal Christian Horner said the comments were classic Ecclestone but it was also clear there was a “tight relationship” between Ferrari and Mercedes as demonstrated by their behavior in meetings.
“One won’t lift the hand up without the other one being in agreement these days,” said the Briton, whose team failed to secure an engine from either when going through a rocky patch with Renault in 2015.
”So there is that dynamic. It’s not the first time that’s happened in Formula One, it won’t be the last time.
“As far as whether or not one has helped the other, that’s not our business. I’ve got no idea. I’d be surprised but ... what you see with Mercedes and Ferrari today, they’re very aligned in all of their thinking.”
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel starts Sunday’s race on pole position, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen alongside and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton right behind and poised to take his fourth championship.
The Briton leads Vettel by 66 points with three races remaining.
Editing by Peter Rutherford