Michael Schumacher accident: Separating the facts from fiction

Thomas Maher
Michael Schumacher celebrates his title win at Suzuka in 2000.

Michael Schumacher celebrates his first Ferrari Drivers' World Championship win.

Michael Schumacher suffered life-changing injuries in a freak skiing accident in 2023. Over the decade since, there has been plenty of speculation and untruths revealed about his life. Here are the facts of Michael Schumacher’s recovery since that fateful day.

It’s hard to believe, given the unstoppable dominance of Formula 1 that Michael Schumacher once commanded, but it’s over 10 years since he disappeared from the public’s eye after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a skiing accident while on holiday.

Precious little solid information has ever emerged on Schumacher’s true condition or state of recovery so, to that end, here are the facts and the timeline of Michael Schumacher’s ongoing recovery and rehabilitation.

What happened to Michael Schumacher?

Following his retirement from Formula 1 at the end of 2012, Schumacher was on holiday in late 2013 with his family – his wife Corinna, son Mick, and daughter Gina – as well as some family friends, in the upmarket resort of Meribel in France.

The German driver was no stranger to the slopes, having spent many holidays and off-season events skiing at resorts around Europe.

Not only that, but Schumacher actually owned a chalet in the valley, and knew the exact resort and its pistes very well. The timing of his annual visit to the area was always welcome – not only for being during the F1 off-season, but it also took in Michael’s birthday celebrations on January 3rd.

But, just before 11am local time on December 29th, 2013, on a gloriously crisp and fresh sunny morning, Schumacher decided to head into one of the ‘off-piste’ areas beside the slope, as he went to help another skier – a fateful decision with tragic consequences.

Schumacher hit one of the several exposed rocks in the uncleared section of snow and lost control. Launched through the air, Schumacher fell and collided with another rock 10 metres away, striking the right side of his head. His helmet was cracked in two by the impact.

The then-44-year-old was initially conscious but was unable to answer questions coherently and displayed ‘erratic’ behaviour, which led medics – who were on the scene within minutes – to call for air extraction.

Schumacher was initially airlifted to hospital at Moutiers, before being transferred to a specialist trauma unit in Grenoble, where the extent of his injuries quickly became apparent.

Schumacher was in a coma when he arrived at the hospital and required immediate surgery on his brain to stop swelling and to ensure a continuous oxygen supply.

An initial press conference confirmed Schumacher’s condition as “extremely serious”, with the hospital’s deputy director Professor Marc Penaud saying at the time that it was simply impossible to predict the future of the World Champion.

Suffering from heavy bleeding and bruising on his brain, Schumacher was put into an artificial coma, while the hospital’s head of anaesthetics Jean-Francois Payen said that, had Schumacher not been wearing a helmet, he would not have survived the fall in the first place.

Neurosurgeon Stephan Chabardes told media at a press conference: “He didn’t respond to questions after the accident. He didn’t have a normal neurological reaction.”

With Schumacher surrounded by his family, close friends rushed to the hospital to see him.

Jean Todt, his former Ferrari boss and then-FIA president, went to his bedside, as did brain surgeon Gerard Saillant – the leading FIA doctor had become close friends with Schumacher following the German’s leg-breaking crash at Silverstone in 1999.

The F1 world reacts to Michael Schumacher’s accident

With the severity of Schumacher’s accident becoming clear, and the prospects of the German resuming a normal life dimming by the hour, Formula 1 went into shock.

Mika Hakkinen, Schumacher’s chief rival through junior categories and at the height of their McLaren/Ferrari duels in the late 1990s, posted a message of support for the man with whom he had shared so many on-track memories.

“Your accident is now just another challenge,” he said.

“You have to fight hard again, just like we both used to do on the track. Do me a favour: just this once don’t try to beat the clock. You don’t have to post your best time in this race. You have to take all the time you need.”

Four-time F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel, who had enjoyed Schumacher’s mentorship and support during his own rise to the top of Formula 1, spoke of his shock at the accident: “I am shocked, and I hope that he will get better as soon as possible. I wish his family a lot of strength.”

With the news of Schumacher’s accident rippling outside of F1, messages of support also came from German chancellor Angela Merkel, and other sporting legends like Boris Becker and Lukas Podolski.

The scenes at Grenoble Hospital showed just how much media interest there was in the predicament of the Schumachers, with a heartbroken Corinna having to contend with heartless photographers and reporters getting in her face as she made her way to the hospital each day.

Joining her and her children were Sabine Kehm, Schumacher’s long-time press officer – who deftly and bravely dealt with the media as much as the family decided to do, as well as Ralf and Rolf Schumacher – Michael’s brother and father, respectively.

But, as an example of some of the disgusting behaviour displayed by some less scrupulous media, a journalist dressed up as a priest in order to gain access to Schumacher’s hospital room. He was quickly discovered and escorted from the premises.

“In Corinna’s name, I would like to ask you not to pressurise us,” Saillant said as he addressed the media. “Neither us nor the family. You can do your best to help Schumacher win this difficult battle by leaving the doctors in peace. We are not hiding anything.”

Michael Schumacher now: What we know about Michael Schumacher’s condition

The process of waking Schumacher from his coma began in late January 2014, but it took until April 2014 for an update on Schumacher’s progress, with Kehm releasing a statement to say he had been showing some signs of “consciousness and awakening”.

Two months later, Schumacher was confirmed as no longer in a coma and was able to leave Grenoble Hospital.

“Michael has left the CHU Grenoble [hospital] to continue his long phase of rehabilitation. He is not in a coma anymore,” Kehm said.

The German was brought to the University Hospital of Lausanne in Switzerland, close to Schumacher’s own home, for further medical rehabilitation.

It was at this time that another display of depraved selfishness was shown by a person who managed to get close to Schumacher.

A man, who worked as an executive at Swiss helicopter air rescue company Rega, was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the theft and leaking of Schumacher’s medical records, with the thief attempting to sell the records to various media outlets for €50,000.

Tracing an IP address used in the theft, the suspect was arrested following Schumacher’s transport to Lausanne. Detained in Zurich, the suspect was found hanged in his cell the following morning.

With Corinna building a comprehensive medical suite at their family home on Lake Geneva, which is believed to be staffed by numerous doctors and aides, the Schumachers withdrew into privacy.

“Henceforth, Michael’s rehabilitation will take place at his home,” Kehm said in mid-2015.

“Considering the severe injuries that he suffered, progress has been made in the past weeks and months.”

But hopes that a breakthrough was coming were dashed in 2016, with the Schumachers taking legal action against a German magazine. Bunte claimed that Schumacher was able to walk and ‘raise an arm’, a report that was deemed “irresponsible” by Kehm.

The court hearing resulted in Schumacher’s lawyer, Felix Damm, revealing that the then-47-year-old was unable to walk or stand, even with assistance.

“Unfortunately, we are forced by a recent press report to clarify that the assertion that Michael could move again is not true,” Kehm said. “Such speculation is irresponsible because, given the seriousness of his injuries, his privacy is very important for Michael. Unfortunately, they also give false hopes to many involved people.”

Long-time manager Willi Weber, who was not permitted to visit or see Schumacher, has spoken about how the family opted for privacy over all else – the 81-year-old also recently revealed how he no longer has any hope of ever seeing Schumacher again.

“I find it very unfortunate that Michael’s fans do not know about his health. Why are they not being told the truth?”

In January 2019, Schumacher turned 50 years old, with a short statement released by the family to thank their supporters.

“We want to remember and celebrate his victories, his records and his jubilation,” read the statement.

“You can be sure that he is in the very best of hands and that we are doing everything humanly possible to help him.

“Please understand if we are following Michael’s wishes and keeping such a sensitive subject as health, as it has always been, in privacy. At the same time, we say thank you very much for your friendship and wish you a healthy and happy year 2019.”

In recent years, there have been no family updates on Schumacher’s condition, with only vague hints offered by Todt as a trusted confidante and friend to the family.

“Let’s leave him alone,” he said earlier this year.

“We respect the privacy wishes of Corinna and her children, although we know of course that the accident had consequences. But anyone who says he knows something, knows nothing. I always go to see him. He and his family are my family.”

What is the latest on Michael Schumacher’s condition?

Last year, Schumacher received an award from the State of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany, with Corinna and Gina joined by Todt for the ceremony to collect the prize on Michael’s behalf.

Awarded to anyone who has made an ‘outstanding contribution to the world’, the ceremony took place only a few kilometres from Michael’s childhood home.

It was at the ceremony that Todt revealed that he and Michael – once a duo that struck terror into the hearts of their on-track foes – now sit together quietly to watch races on television.

“I don’t leave him alone,” Todt told RTL. “Him, 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.”

“I don’t miss Michael, I see him. Yes, it’s true, I watch races with Michael. But sure, I guess what I miss is what we used to do together.”

This month, Todt told L’Equipe: “[He] is simply not the Michael he used to be. He is different and is wonderfully guided by his wife and children who protect him.

“His life is different now and I have the privilege of sharing moments with him. That’s all there is to say. Unfortunately, fate struck him ten years ago. He is no longer the Michael we knew in Formula 1.”

In the Netflix documentary Schumacher, which featured previously unseen behind-the-scenes footage of the German driver in his private family life pre-accident, both Corinna and Mick offered updates which has left little doubt as to the true condition of the legendary F1 driver.

“Michael is here,” Corinna said. “Different, but he’s here, and that gives us strength, I find. We’re together. We live together at home. We do therapy. We do everything we can to make Michael better and to make sure he’s comfortable. And to simply make him feel our family, our bond.

“And no matter what, I will do everything I can. We all will. We’re trying to carry on as a family, the way Michael liked it and still does. And we are getting on with our lives.”

Mick, who had to cope with the trauma of witnessing Michael’s accident, has since gone on to carve out his own motorsport career and raced as part of Ferrari’s Driver Academy to win the Formula 2 title in 2020. He raced with Haas in 2021 and ’22.

“I just have huge respect for Dad. I have always had that,” Mick said in the documentary. “He just has this presence. When he walks into a room, everyone goes quiet. That’s how I remember it.

“Every time I look at him, I tell myself, ‘Yes that’s how I want to be.’ Such strength, such total peace of mind.

“I think Dad and me, we would understand each other now in a different way. Simply because we speak a similar language, the language of motorsport. And that we would have so much more to talk about.

“That’s where my head is most of the time. Thinking that it would be cool. That would be it. I would give up everything just for that.”

Recently, Damm opened up on why the decision was made to maintain radio silence around the F1 legend: “It has always been a matter of protecting private information. Of course, we had a lot of discussions about how to do that.

“We also considered whether a final announcement about Michael’s state of health could be the right way to go about it.

“But that wouldn’t have been the end of it and there would have had to be permanently updated ‘water level reports’. Because as a person affected, it is not in your hands to order the media to draw a line under the matter.

“The media could take up such a report again and again and ask: ‘And how does it look now?’, one, two, three months or years after the report. And if we then wanted to take action against this reporting, we would have to deal with the argument of voluntary self-opening.”

Michael Schumacher’s family continue to maintain radio silence

Schumacher turns 55 years old on January 3rd, 2023, with a full decade now passed since the skiing accident that changed everything. To this day, some entitled fans (and journalists) carry on with a misguided sense of entitlement to information on Michael’s medical condition.

It leads to occasional visible criticism of Corinna and the Schumacher family who, in the face of that pressure, have maintained their stance and the successful radio silence is commendable in its unwavering solidity.

Schumacher the sportsman was infamously ruthless and headstrong – qualities that transformed an otherwise generous, kind, and warm man into the on-track implacable force of nature whose willpower and determination transformed what it meant to be a top-level Formula 1 driver, standards that still exist to be met today.

Following his marriage to Corinna in 1995, the couple weathered the lows of Michael’s early championship failures with Ferrari, to the incredible heights he and the Scuderia achieved through the early 2000s to set records – some of which continue to stand 20 years later.

Through it all, Michael managed to maintain a dignified distance from the media once away from the racetrack.

With that distance, despite the incredible spotlight shone on the Schumacher family due to his successes, both Michael and Corinna were able to raise their children away from public scrutiny and the pressures associated – giving the family a grounded and ‘normal’ life as they went to school and led their own lives.

Schumacher’s incredible ability to separate Michael the man from Michael the driver is a key skill and mindset that Corinna adopted for Michael’s rehabilitation over the last decade.

Rather than being critical, as external observers with morbid curiosity, she should be thanked for this position – not criticised.

Preserved are the public’s memories of the infallible World Champion, the dominant Red Baron that every driver – no matter what they claimed – feared on track.

Unsullied are the images of Michael’s joy on every podium, his thrill at another title and, yes, his smugness at simply being the best at what he did. Be grateful for that, not entitled.

With the family having to cope with the unimaginable sadness and torment of their reality, so far removed from the heady days of past glory and the promise of what Michael’s post-retirement life should have been, such dignity and composure in the face of that pressure is evidence that Schumacher’s strengths are shared with Corinna, Mick, and Gina.

Long may that strength continue.

“‘Private is private,’ as he always said,” Corinna said last year, as she shed tears for her husband at the State ceremony.

“It’s very important to me that he can continue to enjoy his private life as much as possible. Michael always protected us, and now we are protecting Michael.”

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