Sports

Hamilton, rivals try to refocus

Two days after attending the funeral of their colleague Jules Bianchi, Formula 1's leading drivers gathered again yesterday to begin preparations for this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix, the 10th race of a season dominated by Mercedes and their duelling duo of defending champion Lewis Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg.

Following emotional scenes in Nice, where Frenchman Bianchi was laid to rest after his death last Friday from injuries suffered in a collision with a recovery vehicle at last year's Japanese Grand Prix, the mood in the paddock at the Hungaroring circuit is likely to be more subdued than usual on the eve of F1's mid-season "summer" break.

Both Briton Hamilton and German Rosberg, as well as Rosberg's compatriot four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, were among many well-known Formula 1 personalities who attended Bianchi's funeral, an occasion that marked the first death of an F1 driver as a result of a racing accident since Brazilian Ayrton Senna in 1994.

Bianchi was tipped to become a Ferrari driver and enjoy an outstanding career.

Hamilton, who leads Rosberg by 17 points in this year's title race, is in pursuit of his third title. But he made clear this week he will have much more on his mind as he seeks to extend that advantage on a sun-baked, tight and demanding track where he has traditionally shone in past seasons.

"Saying goodbye to Jules was incredibly hard for everyone," Hamilton said.

"For myself, I wished I had known him better. But from what I knew of him, he was a kind heart with a great spirit and a bright future...

TOUGH ROAD

"Now our sport embarks on a tough road ahead," he added, in quotes attributed to him in a news release by Mercedes.

"We have made great progress for safety thus far and I know that the FIA will continue to make steps forward to improve even further."

Since Bianchi, 25, lost control of his car in torrential rain at the Suzuka circuit and crashed last October, the sport has reviewed many of its safety procedures.

Most notably with the introduction of a "virtual" Safety Car scenario to try and avoid any repeat. The ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA) has also retired No. 17, Bianchi's racing number.

Rosberg, winner of three out of four races before the British Grand Prix earlier this month, echoed his teammate's thoughts.

"It has been a very emotional week," he said.

"The drivers paid our final respects to Jules and said farewell. He was a very talented driver and a good guy."

Much focus this weekend will be on the emotional and mental stability of the drivers who have appeared most affected by Bianchi's death, as Ferrari plan to decorate their garage in a visual tribute to the young driver they were grooming for stardom.

Memories will be all around them as they meet, talk, drive and race and they will almost certainly be upset during the minute's silence planned on Sunday 15 minutes before the start of the race. - AFP.

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