Formula One legend Michael Schumacher is in a “critical condition” in a coma after striking his head in a ski accident in the French Alps on Sunday, the hospital treating him said.
The 44-year-old German “was suffering a serious brain trauma with coma on his arrival, which required an immediate neurosurgical operation,” the hospital in the southeast French city of Grenoble said in a statement.
The director of the Meribel resort, where the accident happened, had said the injury was “serious” but not life-threatening.
The director, Christophe Gernigon-Lecomte, said Schumacher was skiing off-piste late morning with companions when he fell and struck his head.
In initial comments to Radio Monte Carlo Sport, Gernigon-Lecomte had said Schumacher was wearing a helmet and was “conscious but a little agitated” after the accident.
But mountain police who gave first aid to the ex-Formula One driver said he was suffering “severe cranial trauma”.
Within 10 minutes, a helicopter airlifted him to a local hospital. When the gravity of his condition became apparent, he was taken to the better-equipped Grenoble facility.
There, doctor Gerard Saillant, a renowned neurosurgeon, was rushed in by police to take charge of Schumacher’s treatment.
Schumacher, who won the last of his world titles in 2004, definitively retired in 2012 in the Brazilian Grand Prix, in which he finished seventh, after an abandoned attempt to quit six years earlier.
Since his debut in 1991, the German towered over the sport, winning more Formula One world titles and races than any other. He had a record 91 wins and is one of only two men to reach 300 grands prix.
Schumacher’s duels in his heyday with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve, fired by an unquenchable competitive spirit, have gone down in Formula One lore.
Schumacher was born in January 1969 near Cologne, Germany, the son of a bricklayer who also ran the local go-kart track, where his mother worked in the canteen.
By 1987, Schumacher was the German and European go-kart champion and was soon racing professionally. In 1991 he burst into Formula One by qualifying seventh in his debut race in Belgium and a year later he was racing for Benetton, where he won his first Formula One grand prix in 1992.
After joining Ferrari in 1996, Schumacher achieved infamy by trying to ram Villeneuve off the road at Jerez in the last race of 1997, and was disqualified from the championship as punishment.
Over the next decade, he went from strength to strength, dominating the podium, before trying to retire the first time aged 37.
But the father of three could not resist the lure of the track and in 2010 he signed a three-year deal with Mercedes.
But slower reflexes and a less competitive car meant Schumacher could not reproduce his former glory and he quit for good in 2012. His helmet had a message for fans: “Life is about passions — Thank you for sharing mine.”