Lauda: Mercedes threatened to fire Hamilton, Rosberg during F1 rivalry

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Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda says both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton were threatened with being released tfrom their contracts at the height of their rivalry in 2016 due to the negative impact it was having on the team.

Rosberg and Hamilton fought for the championship in 2014, 2015 and 2016, with tensions spilling over and causing on-track clashes on a number of occasions.

The most notable incident came on the opening lap of the Spanish Grand Prix in 2016 when the pair crashed into each other, leading to crunch talks with Mercedes in which both drivers were told they would be dropped if they could not stay fair on-track.

“We had huge competition within the team which in the end was sometimes too much. But we put some regulations in,” Lauda explained in an interview with Graham Bensinger.

“We told them, especially in Barcelona when they crashed each other off, this is unacceptable for Mercedes. We have to win. One of you guys has to win, you cannot have each other off. So we had some rules put in.

“They understood. You are not allowed to, you will pay penalties if you do it again, or we’re thinking of releasing you from your contracts.

“We are team players here, the team cannot destroy each other. Toto [Wolff] came up with some good rules and in the end, we had peace again. They fought hard and the accidents got reduced between them.”

Asked about how the partnership between Hamilton and Rosberg soured prior to the latter’s exit at the end of 2016, Lauda said even simple gestures were no longer taking place.

“They had no relationship which is always bad. It was so bad they didn’t even say hello in the morning to each other,” Lauda said.

“I don’t expect them to have breakfast together if they don’t like each other, but the relationship got really bad.

“It affected Lewis mainly, and Nico. It was not easy.”

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.