On the eighth anniversary of his accident on the French Alps, details remain scant on Michael Schumacher’s condition – but what do we know?
Eight years after his tragic accident in the French Alps, the medical status of F1 icon Michael Schumacher remains one of the most closely-guarded secrets in all of sports but a few details have trickled out about his condition.
At first it must have appeared like a lucky escape on the morning of December 29, 2013.
Schumacher, the man whose insatiable thirst for speed led to him being considered the finest driver of his, or any other, generation, had suffered a high-speed fall while skiing an unsecured, off-piste route alongside his then-14-year-old son Mick just a few days after Christmas and a week or so before his 45th birthday.
According to a reconstruction of the accident performed by German newspaper Bild (and reproduced by France24), his helmet appeared to take the brunt of the impact when the right side of his head hit an exposed rock, conspired by fate to be placed at the most inopportune spot possible.
His fall wasn’t helped by the safety release on one of his rented skis reportedly failing to open.
His helmet shattered on impact. The seven-time Formula 1 world champion was bleeding excessively from his head, a wound stretching from his right temple to the back of his head. The head protection, though, appeared to be key. Medics would later say that Schumacher would have likely died instantly had he not been wearing one.
But in the moments after the accident Schumacher remained conscious.
It isn’t exactly known what he might have said, or in what way he communicated with his teenage son, but help was summoned and arrived within four minutes.
Soon afterwards, though, his condition began to deteriorate. Communication became more sparse and incoherent. It didn’t appear as if he had full control of his limbs.
Upon his arrival at a Grenoble hospital, Schumacher slipped into a coma and was operated on immediately.
And that is where information, for the most part anyway, stops.
It is known that he emerged from his coma several months later and that he has remains under the care of his family and his wife Corinna, who revealed in the documentary released about her husband earlier this year that she felt it was her duty to protect the notoriously private Schumacher from the intense media glare.
Today, the Schumacher continues his recovery in his $40 million Majorca home after moving there from Geneva in 2020, and which was previously owned by Real Madrid president Florentino Perez.
The property is thought to be equipped with a range of medical equipment relevant to Schumacher’s recovery.
Only a select few are privy to updates about Schumacher’s condition, but one is the former head of Ferrari’s F1 team Jean Todt – the man who worked alongside the German for several of his world title wins, and who remains closely linked to the Schumacher family.
Todt is known to visit Schumacher at his home around twice per month, and said last month to the Corriere della Serra: “I don’t leave him alone. Him, [his wife] Corinna, the family – we’ve had so many experiences together. The beauty of what we have experienced is part of us and it goes on.”
In fact, much of what is currently known about Schumacher comes from Todt’s various statements over the past few months and years.
In 2020 he said that Schumacher is “fighting” his condition.
“My God, we know he had a terrible and unfortunate skiing accident which has caused him a lot of problems.
“But he has an amazing wife next to him, he has his kids, his nurses, and we can only wish him the best and to wish the family the best, too,” the Frenchman said.
“All I can do is to be close to them until I am able to do something, and then I will do it.”
Shortly after that, neurosurgeon Erich Riederer gave a speculative interview to French television in which he said that he expected that Schumacher was in a “vegetative state”.
“I think he’s in a vegetative state, which means he’s awake but not responding,” he said. “He is breathing, his heart is beating, he can probably sit up and take baby steps with help, but no more,” he said.
“I think that’s the maximum for him. Is there any chance of seeing him like he was before his accident? I really don’t think so.”
However, no such declarations have been made by Schumacher’s family or medical team.
Todt, though, has hinted that the German driver isn’t currently enjoying what could be described as a “normal life”.
“I am very discreet on this subject. We all know that Michael had a very serious accident and, unfortunately, it had significant consequences for him,” he said to Ouest France.
“Since then, he has been treated so that he can be able to return to a more normal life.”
But perhaps the most telling statement was a rare admission from Corinna during the aforementioned Netflix documentary released in September.
“Michael is here – different, but here,” she said.
For now, the Schumacher name remains on the lips of F1 fans the world over – not least due to his son Mick, who is now 22, having made 22 starts for the Haas team in the recently concluded season. Fate, as it would have it this time, has seen the younger Schumacher listed as a reserve driver for Ferrari ahead of next season.
And Mick says he doesn’t mind the inevitable comparisons that come with that role.
“I have the utmost respect for what he has achieved, all his hard work to achieve his victories and titles. Nothing was easy for him,” he said to Frankfurter Allgemeine of his father.
“The energy and strength he showed, his focus, always giving 100% at work, impresses me. I really believe I inherited something in that sense.
“I don’t usually compare myself to others. I prefer to go my own way. But I do look for comparisons with my father. I’ve been told that we are very similar.”
But with the Schumacher legacy still being felt on the grid, the sense of curiosity around the family name shows no sign of abating – and will likely not be extinguished until his fans have some tangible answers to the questions they cannot help but ask.