(Updates with reaction from Schumacher’s family, Ecclestone and drivers, starting in ninth paragraph.)
Dec. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Michael Schumacher, the record seven-time Formula One world champion, remains in a critical condition after sustaining severe head injuries while skiing in the French Alps yesterday, his doctors said.
Schumacher, 44, was airlifted to the Grenoble hospital and arrived in a coma, said Stephan Chabardes, his surgeon, in a televised press conference today. The former racing driver suffered contusions to the brain as well as hemorrhaging. He underwent emergency brain surgery last night, Chabardes said.
“We assess his situation as extremely grave,” he said. Chabardes and Jean-Francois Payen, the head of the hospital’s anesthesia department, said it’s impossible to give a prognosis at this time.
Schumacher was wearing a helmet and the crash involved no one else, a spokesman for the Peleton de Gendarmerie de Haute Montagne said yesterday by telephone. The sportsman fell on the slope between the Biche and Chamois slopes in Meribel, the police spokesman said.
“Seeing the violence of the shock, his helmet partly protected him,” Payen said. “Someone who would have had this type of accident without a helmet would certainly not have made it here.”
Payen added that “the younger you are, the better shape you are in, the better chance you have, but we are not able to define a prognosis or an evolution for the weeks that are coming. We are in a critical situation in these hours.”
Schumacher fell and struck his head on a rock while skiing unmarked and ungroomed slopes in Meribel, the Associated Press reported, citing a statement from the resort.
The ex-world champion wasn’t alone when the accident happened, his manager Sabine Kehm said yesterday. The AP reported Schumacher was skiing with his 14-year-old son when the accident occurred.
Schumacher’s family today thanked medical staff for their efforts, saying “We know that you are doing everything possible to help Michael.”
“We would also ask the media to respect our privacy and that of our friends, as well as thanking you for your support,” the family said in a statement released by Kehm and cited by Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
Schumacher won Formula One titles with the Benetton team in 1994 and 1995 and took five consecutive championships with Ferrari from 2000 to 2004. He left Formula One last year following a three-season comeback.
Schumacher initially quit auto racing in 2006 as the world’s highest-earning athlete, with salary and endorsements of $58 million, according to Sports Illustrated magazine.
In 2009, he called off a temporary comeback to the sport because of neck pain lingering from a motorcycle accident. Schumacher then returned to Formula One in 2010 with the Mercedes GP team. While he won 91 races in his career, he failed to win any during his comeback. During his final season, Schumacher raced against five other world champions, all of whom were at least 10 years younger.
“It wasn’t as successful as before but I still learned a lot for life,” Schumacher said upon leaving Formula One a second time. “I found that losing can be both more difficult and more instructive than winning.”
Formula One’s Chief Executive Officer Bernie Ecclestone told Bloomberg News that he’s been in touch with people close to Schumacher and is expecting an update on his condition.
“I’m waiting for a call now. The only information is that it’s critical,” the 83-year-old said.
Schumacher’s fellow German Sebastian Vettel, the current Formula One champion, told news agency Sport-Informations- Dienst, “I am shocked and I hope that he’ll be feeling better as soon as possible.”
Vettel, 26, who has won the past four championships for Red Bull, last month tied Schumacher’s record, set in 2004, of 13 Grand Prix victories in a season.
Other drivers posted messages of support on the Twitter social-networking website. McLaren’s Jenson Button, who won the 2009 championship for the Brawn team, said, “My thoughts are with Michael Schumacher at this tough time. Michael more than anyone has the strength to pull through this.”
The 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen, who finished fifth in the 2013 championship for Lotus and will drive for Ferrari next season, said, “God bless you Michael. Be strong!”
Raikkonen’s Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso, who won the championship in 2005 and 2006 with Renault, said, “Get well soon Michael! Hope to hear some positive news very soon!”
Former tennis No. 1 Boris Becker, a fellow German, also sent a message of support, saying via Twitter, “Let us all pray for Michael for a full and speedy recovery!”
--With assistance from Cornelius Rahn in Berlin, Matt Robinson and Erik Matuszewski in New York and Ben Priechenfried in London. Editors: Nancy Moran, Peter-Joseph Hegarty