Seven-time Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher was fighting for his life yesterday after suffering severe head injuries in a skiing accident in the French Alps resort of Meribel, doctors said.
“We can say that his condition is life-threatening,” Jean-Francois Payen, head anesthetist at the CHU hospital in the eastern French city of Grenoble, told a press conference. “For the moment we cannot say what Michael Schumacher’s future is. We are working round the clock — we are trying to win time.”
The retired motor racing great, 44, slammed his head on a rock while skiing off-piste on Sunday morning in the French Alpine resort where he has a vacation home.
“His helmet did of course protect him, at least partly. Someone who had suffered a similar accident without a helmet would not have made it here [to the hospital],” Payen said.
Schumacher was initially conscious as he was transported to a local hospital in Moutiers and then to Grenoble. However, his condition deteriorated sharply afterwards.
His neurosurgeon Stephan Chabardes said that an emergency brain scan carried out on Schumacher had revealed internal bleeding, and injuries including contusions and lesions. He said they had operated to treat the internal bleeding.
Doctors said Schumacher had been placed in an artificial coma, but, contrary to an earlier French media report, said they had not carried out a second operation during the night and were not planning any further interventions at this stage.
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was shocked to hear the news.
“We hope that he overcomes his injuries and can recover,” a spokesman told a regular press briefing in Berlin.
In Germany, Schumacher’s accident topped news bulletins, with the bestselling tabloid newspaper Bild reporting on its Web site: “Schumi fighting for his life.”
Schumacher was under the care of Gerard Saillant, a brain and spinal injury expert who is also president of the International Automobile Federation Institute. Saillant told the press conference he was there as “a friend” and gave no further details on Schumacher’s condition.
Bild reporters said Ross Brawn, the Briton who worked with Schumacher at Ferrari and Mercedes as technical director and team principal respectively, had also arrived in Grenoble.
Leading names in motor racing reacted with shock on Twitter.
“If anyone can pull through, it’s him,” wrote Britain’s triple Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti, who is still walking on crutches after a crash in October that ended his racing career.
“Come on Michael, give us one of those race stints at pure qualifying pace to win through, like you used to. You can do it,” Schumacher’s former Benetton teammate Martin Brundle wrote.
Former Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa, who suffered a near fatal head injury at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, said he was praying for his friend.
Schumacher is the most successful Formula One driver of all time with a record 91 race victories in a career spanning more than two decades.
He won his first two titles with Benetton in 1994, the year when Brazilian triple champion Ayrton Senna died in a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix, and in 1995.
The German then took five in a row with Ferrari between 2000 and 2004 in what now seems a golden age for the Italian team, who named a square after him at their Fiorano test track.
Schumacher left the sport last year after a less successful three-year comeback with Mercedes following an earlier retirement from Ferrari at the end of 2006.
He lives in Switzerland with his wife and two children.