Fans of Formula One legend Michael Schumacher yesterday prepared to hold a silent vigil for his 45th birthday as he lay in a coma at a French hospital after a skiing accident last weekend.
Ferrari, which was bussing in fans from Italy to the hospital in the southeastern French city of Grenoble to stage a silent tribute, also put out a special message on its Web site, saying “Forza Michael,” or “Go Michael” in Italian.
“He is tackling the most important fight of his life and therefore we want to send him very special wishes,” Ferrari said, as similar messages poured in from around the world.
German former tennis ace Boris Becker wished Schumacher “Happy Birthday” on Twitter, adding “Fight Schumi” in a German hashtag.
The retired seven-time world champion slammed his head against a rock last Sunday while skiing in the French Alps and has had two operations to remove bleeding and pressure on his brain. He is being kept in an induced coma.
In a message coinciding with his birthday yesterday, Schumacher’s family said they were touched by the support.
His family is at his side, including his wife, Corrina, his two teenage children, his father, Rolf, and brother, Ralph, who is also a racing driver.
“Following Michael’s skiing accident, we would like to thank the people from all around the world who have expressed their sympathy and sent their best wishes for his recovery,” the family said in a statement posted on Schumacher’s Web site.
“We all know he is a fighter and will not give up” they added.
Fans meanwhile left a poster outside the Grenoble hospital in English, saying: “Schumi, All our Thoughts for You and Your Family.”
The Ferrari tribute has created controversy, with some accusing the Italian firm — which asked fans to sport red, its color, and its insignia — of exceeding the limits of good taste.
The Italian carmaker, which has 130 clubs in Europe, has provided about 20 coaches across Italy to bus in fans for the ceremony.
However, not everyone was pleased, like Roberto Luongo, the president of the Roma-Colesseo Ferrari club, who said he did not want to be associated with any such event linked to “a man who is suffering.”
“It’s very delicate and if I was among those who are close to Michael, such an initiative would not have pleased me,” he said.
Schumacher’s fan club in his childhood town of Kerpen said any celebration of the birthday would be in bad taste.
There have been conflicting statements about the speed Schumacher was going at the time of his accident at the Meribel ski resort, where he has a property.
The impact split the helmet he was wearing in two, according to a source close to the investigation.
The hospital and Schumacher’s manager had briefed the press daily since the accident, but did not do so on Thursday, instead promising to communicate only if there was something new to report.
Schumacher’s media representative, Sabine Kehm, said on Wednesday that he was stable, though still critical.
The hospital has been faced with intense media pressure due to the frenzied interest in its famous patient. A vacant lot nearby has been turned into an impromptu parking area for numerous TV satellite vans.
Kehm earlier in the week said some people had tried to sneak into Schumacher’s room, one dressed as a priest.
The three medical professors treating him — two neurosurgeons and the head of the anaesthetic and intensive care department — have also been thrown into the spotlight.