Mon, Mar 19, 2018 - Page 11 News List

F1 season begins; Schumacher still fighting

AP

As Formula One drivers prepare for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix next weekend, Michael Schumacher continues a very different fight far away.

There remains huge respect for the seven-time F1 champion who, more than four years after a near-fatal brain injury in a skiing accident, is still being cared for at home in the quiet Swiss town of Gland on the shores of Lake Geneva. He has been treated there since September 2014. The thick forest surrounding his castle-like home provides sanctuary from fan and media intrusion with high surrounding walls.

While his family fiercely protects his privacy, Schumacher’s reputation still towers over F1 and fans of all ages continue to adore him.

“What can be said is that the family really appreciates the empathy of the fans,” Schumacher’s manager Sabine Kehm told The Associated Press by telephone on Friday. “The people really do see and understand [his health situation] is not to be shared in the public eye.”

The current condition of the 49-year-old German’s health remains closely guarded. Kehm would not comment on it when asked by reporters.

On March 18, 2012 — exactly six years ago — Schumacher began the last season of his F1 career at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. He secured the last of his mammoth 155 podiums that year at the European Grand Prix in Valencia, Spain, on June 24, 2012, before retiring definitively at the age of 43.

In his last race Schumacher finished seventh behind Sebastian Vettel. It felt somewhat like a changing of the guard, with Vettel growing up with posters of his German countryman on his wall. A little more than a year later, Schumacher was fighting for his life.

While skiing with his teenage son, Mick, in the French Alps at Meribel, Schumacher fell on Dec. 29, 2013.

He hit the right side of his head on a rock, splitting open his helmet. Doctors worked frantically to remove blood clots from his brain, but some were left because they were too deeply embedded.

Schumacher’s condition stabilized after he was placed in a drug-induced coma, from which he later emerged.

Reported figures estimated his treatment at more than 23 million euros (US$28 million) and counting. The exasperated family stopped communicating altogether.

“Michael’s health is not a public issue and so we will continue to make no comment in that regard,” Kehm said. “Legally seen and in the longer term, every statement related to his health would diminish the extent of his intimate sphere.”

That statement was made 16 months ago.

On an F1 track near Barcelona this month, a red flag fluttered over a grandstand facing Ferrari’s garage.

Two words were written on it — Micheal forever — in a permanent testimony to his five titles with Ferrari from 2000 to 2004.

Schumacher quit F1 in 2006 after finishing second to Fernando Alonso by only 13 points in a bid for an eighth title. When he announced his comeback for 2010, he swapped the flashy red of Ferrari for the gleaming silver of Mercedes.

Schumacher’s record seven titles and 91 wins made him an F1 colossus.

“He was the benchmark of physical approach, of mental approach,” said 33-year-old Polish driver Robert Kubica, who grew up watching Schumacher and himself earned 12 F1 podiums from 2006 to 2010.

Amid the frenzy of Ferrari’s success at the turn of the decade, F1 even threatened to give soccer a challenge for pole position in the hearts of Italian sports fans.

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