Norbert Haug has said that Niki Lauda's arrival at the Mercedes F1 team had nothing to do with his surprise decision to stand down, preferring to blame responsibility for the team's poor performance in recent years.
Haug confirmed his exit via a press release issued on Thursday (13 December), claiming that the decision had been taken 'by mutual consent' with the company board. That prompted suggestions that his departure had perhaps been prompted by the outspoken Lauda's arrival – a move which apparently contributed to Mercedes moving closer to signing the latest Concorde Agreement and prising Lewis Hamilton away from McLaren – but the burly German insists that that is not the case.
"I would like to emphasise that this is a decision that the board and myself reached jointly by mutual agreement," Haug told German news agency SID
, "Niki had absolutely nothing to do with it. We get on and respect each other - just like we have done for many years and that is not about to change.
"However, there is always somebody who has to accept overall responsibility and, while we have had our successes in the past three years, it was not consistently enough, so a direction had to be set and a marker laid down."
Lauda admitted that he had been as surprised as anyone when news of Haug's departure broke, and expressed regret about the decision.
Michael Schumacher, meanwhile, claimed that Haug stepping down would 'tear a massive hole in both our sport and our team'.
"Since I entered professional motorsport, Mercedes and Norbert Haug were part of it, so this step will mark a big break," the seven-time champion wrote on his official website, "We spent a lot of years together, being sporting combatants or allies, and Norbert has always been into this with full enthusiasm and wholeheartedly. He was living motorsports, and him leaving will tear a massive hole in both our sport and our team."