Fans to hold silent vigil as Schumacher turns 45 in coma
GRENOBLE, France - Agence France-Presse
Fans of German Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher hold a F1 Ferrari team banner and a T-shirt with a picture of the former pilot, on January 3, 2014, in front of the Grenoble University Hospital Centre, to mark his 45th birthday. AFP PhotoFans of Formula One legend Michael Schumacher on Friday prepared to hold a silent vigil for his 45th birthday as he lay in a coma at a French hospital after a weekend skiing accident. Ferrari, which is bussing in fans from Italy to the hospital in the southeastern French city of Grenoble to stage a silent tribute, also put out a special message on its website, saying "Forza Michael," or "Go Michael" in Italian.
"He is tackling the most important fight of his life and therefore we want to send him very special wishes," Ferrari said, as similar messages poured in from around the world. German former tennis ace Boris Becker wished Schumacher "Happy Birthday" on Twitter, adding "Fight Schumi" in a German hashtag. The retired seven-time world champion slammed his head against a rock on Sunday while skiing in the French Alps and has had two operations to remove bleeding and pressure on his brain. He is being kept in an induced coma.
In a message coinciding with his birthday, Schumacher's family said they were touched by the support. His family is at his side, including his wife Corrina, his two teenage children, his father Rolf and brother Ralph, who is also a racing driver.
"Following Michael's skiing accident, we would like to thank the people from all around the world who have expressed their sympathy and sent their best wishes for his recovery," the family said in a statement posted on Schumacher's website.
"We all know he is a fighter and will not give up" they added.
Fans meanwhile left a poster outside the Grenoble hospital in English, saying "Schumi, All our Thoughts for You and Your Family." The Ferrari tribute has created controversy with some accusing the Italian firm -- which asked fans to sport red, its colour, and its insignia -- of exceeding the limits of good taste.
The Italian carmaker, which has 130 clubs in Europe has provided about 20 coaches across Italy to bus in fans for the ceremony.
But not everyone was pleased, like Roberto Luongo, the president of the Roma-Colesseo Ferrari club, who said he did not want to be associated with any such event linked to "a man who is suffering.
"It's very delicate and if I was among those who are close to Michael, such an initiative would not have pleased me," he said.
Schumacher's fan club in his childhood town of Kerpen said any celebration of the birthday would be in bad taste.
There have been conflicting statements about the speed Schumacher was going at the time of his accident at the Meribel ski resort, where he has a property. The impact split the helmet he was wearing in two, according to a source close to the investigation.
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.
His media representative, Sabine Kehm, said Wednesday that Schumacher was stable though still critical. He has been put in a medically induced coma.
The hospital has been faced with intense media pressure due to the frenzied interest in its famous patient. A vacant lot nearby has been turned into an impromptu parking area for numerous television satellite vans.
Kehm earlier in the week said some people had tried to sneak into Schumacher's room, one dressed as a priest.
The three medical professors treating him -- two neurosurgeons and the head of the anaesthetic and intensive care department -- have also been thrown into the spotlight.
They have appeared at press conferences to explain the latest developments. While they have refused to speculate on how Schumacher's condition may evolve, they say his age and fitness could help with recovery.
Yet questions have emerged over exactly how the accident happened on a small, seemingly innocuous off-piste section of Meribel located between two ski slopes -- one classed as easy and the other as intermediate.
The prosecutors are looking at whether the limits of the pistes next to the area where accident happened were correctly marked, and whether the safety releases on Schumacher's skis operated properly. Prosecutors were not expected to make any statement on the investigation until early next week.
Schumacher, who made his debut in 1991, dominated Formula One, 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.