Formula One: Lewis Hamilton says Jules Bianchi was always on his mind in Sochi

SOCHI, Russia (REUTERS) - The champagne was sprayed on the podium, and celebratory glasses clinked in the Mercedes hospitality, but Russian Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton never lost sight of the bigger picture on Sunday.

With French driver Jules Bianchi critically ill in a Japanese hospital after suffering severe brain injuries in a crash at Suzuka only seven days ago, a cloud has hung over Formula One all week.

It was less evident in the Sochi sunshine, with the drivers feeling free to smile and soak each other in the champagne that had stayed in the bottles the previous weekend, but the memory was always there.

"All week there's just been one person on my mind, and that's Jules," Hamilton told reporters after the team photographs were done with Mercedes jubilant at a first constructors' title.

"Of course there's excitement and happiness for the team," continued the Briton, whose victory in Russia's first race brought him a ninth win of the season and a podium handshake with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

"But without a doubt every time I've got in the car this week, coming here, and being here, I've been thinking about him and his family and keeping him in my prayers every day. "Whether it means anything, or whether it does anything, it would be great to be able to dedicate this to him and his family. It will make very small difference to them, for sure. But every bit of positive energy hopefully will help."

All the 21 race drivers gathered in a silent circle in front of the safety car on the starting grid before the race, and carried the message 'Tous Avec Jules #17' (All with Jules) on their helmets.

Bianchi's car remained in the quiet half of the Marussia garage, race ready but going nowhere, with the 25-year-old's name over the entrance as if he were present.

Max Chilton was the team's sole driver, with the Briton lasting just 10 laps before retiring with an undiagnosed mechanical problem.

Hamilton may have had an easy afternoon run to the chequered flag, after a mistake by team mate and title rival Nico Rosberg lifted any pressure, but the moments before the start were difficult for all the drivers.

"In the car you don't think about anything," said McLaren's Jenson Button. "That was always the thing with my dad (who died earlier this year) as well. Before the race, after the race, national anthems. It's horrific.

"But when you get in the car and close your helmet and you're racing, it's a nice place to be. You go into another world," he said.

"But on the grid it was quite emotional for everyone and we, the drivers, had our little time together. We were there for Jules. Then getting back into the car, that was the trickiest bit."

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