Two long years have passed since his life-changing skiing accident but the need for patience goes on...
Wednesday 17 February 2016 12:55, UK
How is Michael Schumacher?
Two years after his skiing accident, it's not an easy question to answer - partly because so little is known about the F1 legend's condition and ongoing recovery from life-threatening head injuries and partly because the Schumachers have so frequently requested that speculation is avoided.
What do we know for certain about Schumi's accident?
Schumacher was injured on December 29, 2013 as he holidayed with friends and family in the French Alps. The seven-time world champion was airlifted to Grenoble Hospital suffering what was described as "a severe head injury with coma on arrival, which required immediate neurosurgical intervention". At a press conference the following day, Schumacher's doctors described his condition as "extremely serious" and a second operation, lasting two hours, was performed "to reduce the swelling on his brain".
The news became a drip-feed of infrequent updates after that. In April 2014, the Schumacher family released a statement declaring Michael had shown "moments of consciousness and awakening". But only moments? Another three months would follow before word was released that Michael was no longer in a coma and had left Grenoble Hospital. And three months after that, in September 2014, it was officially confirmed Michael had been transferred from Lausanne Hospital to the Schumachers' family home on the shores of Lake Geneva.
'Henceforth, Michael's rehabilitation will take place at his home,' read a statement. 'Considering the severe head injuries he suffered, progress has been made in the past weeks and months. There is still, however, a long and difficult road ahead.'
But what sort of progress? And how long is a long and difficult road?
What are the latest updates?
In May, Schumacher's long-time manger Sabine Kehm told a German publication that Michael was "making progress" but with the proviso his fans "must always keep the seriousness of his injuries in mind". Since then, the shutters have remained bolted down and the silence only briefly - and unofficially - interrupted by the assurance of FIA president Jean Todt that Michael "is still fighting" and the painfully sombre words of Ross Brawn as he vowed hope hadn't been exhausted. "We just keep praying every day that he'll recover to a stage where…it's slow, but there's always hope," said the former Ferrari and Mercedes boss.
Otherwise, the Schumachers' news blackout has remained total. With no glimmers of light, and Michael remaining one of the most iconic sportsmen of the age, rumour and conjecture has inevitably swirled. But how is Michael? The fact remains: we just don't know.
When will we know more?
No expense has been spared in the Schumacher family's defence of theirs and Michael's privacy and no report has passed unscrutinised. In July, the family sued three German tabloids over a series of reports which included claims that Schumacher had spoken his first post-accident words. Only last week, Kehm condemned a magazine which had reported that Michael had started walking again. "Unfortunately we are forced by a recent press report to clarify that the assertion that Michael could move again is not true," she 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."
Few will fail to sympathise with the collective stance of Michael's inner circle. In those gut-wrenching days of late December in Grenoble, it was reported a journalist had dressed as a priest to access Schumacher's hospital room. Last August, an employee of a Swiss helicopter company used to transfer Schumacher from Grenoble to Lausanne was found hanged in his police cell after being accused of being involved in the theft of medical files. And last but by no means least in this list of unwanted intrusion, it was reported this summer how photographers were camped out in the woods which surround the Schumachers' home and had even employed low-flying helicopters to catch the world's first glimpse of post-accident Michael.
This is the world in which their fight for privacy is being fought. We can despair at the human condition expressed in such desperate acts, but it is perhaps a reflection on all of us that the first picture to be taken of Michael since his accident will transform its taker into a millionaire overnight.
A telling silence
For Schumacher's legions of supporters, the silence has been difficult to accept. But the casual mistake would be to accuse the Schumacher family of fuelling the speculation about his condition, and even the attempted intrusions to glimpse his recovery, through their reticence. Michael Schumacher is no longer Michael Schumacher the F1 legend but Michael the family man. It's right, therefore, that his recovery should take place in privacy
"I can conceive of no possible reason that Michael's entourage, understandably extremely protective of his and their privacy, would not tell his fans if significantly good things have happened," wrote Gary Hartstein, the former F1 doctor, in his blog in the weeks immediately after Schumacher's accident.
But the race - more Le Mans than grand prix - isn't over and the road was never going to be short. The wait, the patience, and the hope, goes on. #KeepFightingMichael.