SOCHI, Russia – Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg take their Formula One fight to untested ground at the Russian Grand Prix this weekend, with the circuit still recovering from the horrific crash of Jules Bianchi last week.
Hamilton leads his Mercedes teammate by 10 points going into the race in Sochi, the Black Sea resort that hosted the Winter Olympics in February. With four races and 125 points still at stake, the title will not be decided at the Sochi Autodrom around the Olympic Park. But Mercedes can seal the constructors' title with a victory by one of its drivers, who will be the favorites.
In Japan, Bianchi is in critical but stable condition after suffering a severe head injury when his Marrussia car ploughed into a recovery crane at the Suzuka course during rainy conditions.
Governing body FIA has started an investigation into the accident, which has revived a safety debate in Formula One.
The accident overshadowed Hamilton's victory over Rosberg in Suzuka. Hamilton's eighth win of the season increased his lead to 10 points. Each victory is worth 25 points, but the last race in Dubai will count double.
Hamilton, like all drivers, will face an unfamiliar course as the Sochi Autodrom makes its debut on the circuit.
"It's difficult to know what to say after a weekend like the one in Japan," Hamilton said. "As I crossed the line, obviously I was pleased to have finally won at Suzuka, but as soon as we got back to the pits and heard what happened to Jules it suddenly didn't seem relevant anymore. My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.
"This weekend is a new experience. I like a challenge and a new circuit always provides that. Of course, we've run through plenty of laps on the simulator, but you never really know what it will be like until you get out there and feel your way into the track," Hamilton said.
With the well-being of Bianchi foremost on his mind, Rosberg said he was looking forward to the race in Russia.
"We did actually do a demo in Moscow a couple of years ago where I drove round the Kremlin, which was really cool," Rosberg said. "Everybody was really into it, all the Russian fans, so I think there will be a lot of people coming to watch us. It's a new circuit, so we've spent a lot of time in the simulator practicing it to learn all the lines and the gears as best we can."
The Russian fans are sure to support Daniil Kvyat, the home driver who is leaving Toro Rosso to replace four-time champion Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull.
"I am sure there will be a lot of attention on me, but I am ready for it and will enjoy it in a way, so really I will just do my usual job the best I can," said Kvyat, who has a grandstand on the course named after him.
Russia did stage two grand prix races before, but that was before World War I in St. Petersburg.