LONDON, May 23, 2014 (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, whose friendship, rivalry and differing backgrounds have been at the centre of much attention this week, will remain team-mates for at least two more years, their Mercedes team indicated on Friday.
As the Formula One circus took its traditional 'day of rest' on Friday at the Monaco Grand Prix, a Mercedes spokesman confirmed that the sport's leading pairing - who are first and second in this year's drivers' championship - will remain together until the end of 2016.
"We have long-term relationships with both our drivers," the spokesman told reporters. No official statement was made by Mercedes.
As this news was revealed, following intense speculation, many seasoned paddock observers smiled with amusement at widespread reports suggesting that the competition between the two had intensified.
Hamilton, it was reported on Thursday, had made much of the difference in their backgrounds - by allegedly claiming that Rosberg had a privileged upbringing while his was disadvantaged - to claim that he was 'hungrier' for success because he was born in Stevenage and came from a 'broken home' on a council estate.
Just a few hours later, Hamilton was being photographed, with his former pop singer girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, at a major social event associated with the nearby Cannes Film Festival.
In what was described by celebrity publications as their first official 'red carpet appearance' since reuniting earlier this year, they attended the amFAR (cinema against aids) gala with, among others, Hollywood film stars including Sharon Stone and Marion Cotillard.
Rosberg, who was brought up in Monte Carlo, was not at the event where his English-born team-mate, dressed in a crimson dinner jacket, enjoyed much attention. Rosberg kept a lower profile.
News of Rosberg's deal followed comments earlier in the week during a visit to a factory in Spain by Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Mercedes-Benz Cars, that two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso was 'maybe the best driver in F1'.
His remarks sparked another minor controversy which, after Alonso had questioned how much he is appreciated, led to Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo issuing a statement on Thursday in which he praised Alonso and his value to the team.
For all involved at Ferrari, it is a difficult period as they have been forced to play only a supporting role while the 2008 champion Hamilton and Rosberg have won all five races this year and dominated the headlines.
After four wins, Hamilton leads Rosberg by only three points ahead of Sunday's classic 78-laps race on the Mediterranean street circuit.
It is, as he has recognised, only a fragile advantage, which is why many believe he referred to their differences to endorse his view that he is 'hungrier'.
"I come from a not great place, in Stevenage (50km north of London), and lived on a couch in my dad's apartment," Hamilton told reporters. "Nico grew up in Monaco with jets and boats and all these kind of things.
"So the hunger is different... I want to be the hungriest guy in the cockpit from all 22 of us - even if every driver has to believe that he's the hungriest - because if I were to come here believing that Nico is hungrier than me then I might as well go home."
Rosberg, who has known and raced against Hamilton for 15 years since they were teenagers in international karting, won last year's Monaco race and wants to win on Sunday to end the Englishman's current run of wins and regain the