HAPPY FEET: Spectators take a track fan walk at the Sochi Autodrom on Thursday (Oct 9 2014) before the action starts for the inaugural Russian GP. The Black Sea resort also hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics. Image: AFP / Pavel Golovkin
SOCHI, Russia, Oct 9 (Reuters) - However intense the pain felt by Formula 1 after Jules Bianchi's horrific accident in Japan - and the shock is deep indeed - Friday's inaugural Russian GP practice offers some respite.
For most drivers, getting back out on the track will be a welcome escape from the dark cloud hanging over the paddock. The simple reality is that, in a sport of ever-present danger and split-second reactions, drivers enter a different state of mind when the helmet goes on and the visor comes down.
A question repeated around the paddock on Thursday (Oct 9) asked how hard it would be to rationalise what had happened at Suzuka and step back into the cockpit when a friend and colleague was fighting for his life in hospital.
'FOCUS ON THE JOB'
Mercedes title contender Nico Rosberg, son of 1982 F1 champion Keke, gave a fairly typical reply. "It's difficult because it's shocking circumstances," said the German whose team could win the Constructors' championship on Sunday, "but there is a job to be done.
"When I get into that car I close my visor and just put everything aside as always - all thoughts and all emotions - and fully focus on the job in hand. That's what I'll try and do again this weekend."
Rosberg, 10 points behind team mate Lewis Hamilton in the championship, said it was a question of "just accepting it and not really thinking about it once I get into the car".
Brazilian Felipe Massa, who battled back from a life-threatening head injury in 2009, said he was hoping for some respite in familiar tasks. "It's a very difficult weekend for all of us. Maybe on Friday it will get a little bit better because at least you are working, at least you have something to think about, some issue to put inside your brain."
Romain Grosjean said fellow Frenchman Bianchi, a friend and sometime training partner, would not have expected any different. "I haven't slept very well since that (crash)," the Lotus driver said. "On the other hand, I know that if he could say something right now he'd say 'Hey guys, come on. You have a grand prix to achieve so go for it'."
Bianchi's car aquaplaned off the track at Suzuka and underneath a recovery tractor in an accident that brought the race to a premature close. Several drivers highlighted the fact that it looked like a freak accident; bad luck caused by a combination of circumstances.
"It's very difficult to accept but maybe sometimes life is like that," said Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, another good friend of Bianchi's and, with Massa, part of a close-knit group managed by Frenchman Nicolas Todt.
"I know Jules very well, he is a very strong man," added the Lotus driver who was still struggling to explain what had happened. "Normally when you get into the car and put on the helmet, all life stops and you are thinking about what you need to do. If you start to think about other things, you lose concentration and you lose seconds.
"It will not affect other drivers in terms of abilities or driving on the track but we are shocked outside of the track to see one of our members, one of our boys, in hospital."
Grosjean was similarly torn, shocked but still eager to get back behind the wheel. "You don't feel good but on the other hand I know the risk we take, my wife knows it - my son is a bit young to know it - but we love the sport.
"I think we all had bad crashes in the past and we know it's dangerous but the day you are scared of what you do, you stop. I am in love with Formula 1, I am in love with racing, and I know Jules is as well."