EMOTION IN SOCHI: Volunteers wave in the paddock at the F1 Autodrom in Sochi on October 9 2014 ahead of Sunday's first Russian F1 GP - which has driven into into another controversy. Image: AFP / Alexander Nemenov
SOCHI, Russia - An air of shock and sadness hung over the Formula 1 paddock here on Thursday as drivers prepared for the inaugural Russian GP with injured driver Jules Bianchi foremost in their thoughts.
Bianchi suffered severe brain damage - he is "critical but stable" in a Japanese hospital - when his car aquaplaned at speed off the track and under a recovery tractor removing a Sauber which crashed in the same place on the previous lap from in front of the tyre wall.
No medical update has been released since Tuesday.
'WORST RACE OF MY LIFE'
Brazilian Felipe Massa, who suffered a severe head injury in an also freak accident involving a flying car spring during the 2009 Hungarian GP but came back to race again, then for Ferrari and now for Williams, expressed what are probably the thoughts of many:
"It was the worst race of my life," he told reporters on Thursday when asked for his thoughts about Suzuka during an emotional news conference with four other drivers ahead of Friday practice.
"It's so difficult to be everyday because I can just be thinking about him, thinking about Jules. It's a very difficult weekend for all of us," he continued. "Maybe tomorrow it will get a little bit better because at least we will be working, have something to think about, some issue to put inside your brain.
"(We must) try to race and do the best we can for him, for his family."
Bianchi is a popular figure and one of the sport's rising stars, as well as coming from a well-established motor racing family. He was uppermost in everbodys' thoughts as they prepared for the first Russian F1 GP. Although racing for Marussia, he was contracted to Ferrari as a test driver.
'OUR MINDS ARE WITH HIM'
Ferrari's double F1 champion Fernando Alonso, a friend and regular travelling companion of Bianchi, said: "It was a tough weekend and now we are here, a difficult weekend again. Emotionally very difficult. (We are) ready to race, to race for him, being as professional as we can but definitely our minds are with him, praying for him."
Sutil, who was standing near his car as the Marussia slammed into the tractor, agreed.
"We have to pray right now. This is all we can do. We can hope that we get some better news," he said. "My thoughts are the same. Pray for the best and race for him."
Every F1 driver knows the risks in a sport that remains inherently dangerous, however much safety has improved since triple champion Ayrton Senna became the most recent fatality 20 years earlier.
Stay with Wheels24 for the 2014 Russian GP