Formula One legend Michael Schumacher is to turn 45 on Friday while lying comatose in a French hospital after suffering critical head injuries in a ski accident.
Doctors and family members were tight-lipped Thursday about the condition of the German racing great, who has been hospitalised since Sunday, when he slammed his head against a rock while skiing in the French Alps.
There have been conflicting statements about the speed the seven-time world racing champion was going when the tragedy befell him in the Meribel ski resort, where he has a property. The rock impact split the helmet Schumacher was wearing in two, according to a source close to the investigation.
The Ferrari F1 team where Schumacher spent many years announced it would on Friday hold a “silent gathering” in front of the Grenoble hospital for the birthday of the retired sportsman, who is being kept in an induced coma.
Jean Todt, former head of the team and current president of motor sport’s world body, was at Schumacher’s bedside on Thursday along with Schumacher’s wife Corinna.
The hospital and Schumacher’s manager had briefed the press daily since the accident. But they did not do so on Thursday, instead promising to communicate only if there was something new to report.
Schumacher has had two operations to remove bleeding and pressure on his brain.
Schumacher’s accident has prompted an outpouring of sympathy from fans shocked to see their idol hovering so close to death.
Yet questions have emerged over exactly how the accident happened in a small, seemingly innocuous off-piste section of Meribel located between two ski slopes — one classed easy and the other intermediate.
Prosecutors have opened a probe into the accident, as is common practice in France in such cases, and are exploring the theory that Schumacher was skiing at great speed when he fell.
But his media representative, Sabine Kehm, told reporters earlier in the week that the former racer was not skiing fast when he fell.
“He seems to have hit a rock as he took a turn. It was a chain of unfortunate circumstances,” she said.
She added that Schumacher was with his 14-year-old son Mick at the time of the accident, as well as a small group of friends.
“He was not going quickly, because it seems he helped a friend who had fallen down,” she said.
Schumacher dominated Formula One from his debut in 1991, winning more world titles and races than any other driver.
He first retired aged 37 but was unable to resist the lure of the track. In 2010, he came out of retirement but was unable to recover his previous performance and quit for good in 2012.