Michael Schumacher's treatment for severe head injuries has entered a "decisive" 48-hour period that will determine whether he survives, his doctors said yesterday.
The seven-times Formula One world champion, who fell and hit his head on a rock while skiing off-piste, would have died if he had not been wearing a ski helmet, medics said. According to one report, the impact was so severe that the helmet cracked.
Chief anaesthetist Dr Jean-Francois Payen said that Schumacher was still in a medically induced coma and doctors were focusing only on his current condition.
"We cannot predict the future for Michael Schumacher," said Dr Payen, who is also in charge of Grenoble University Hospital's intensive-care unit.
"He is in a critical state in terms of cerebral resuscitation," he added. "We are working hour by hour."
He said Schumacher had undergone emergency surgery after arriving at the hospital to remove blood from a haematoma, or bleeding inside the brain, and there were no plans for a second operation. The haematoma caused swelling in a "critical" location in the brain.
Specialists refused to speculate on whether he would survive or whether he has suffered permanent brain damage.
Schumacher, the most successful driver in Formula One history, arrived at the Grenoble hospital a day earlier, already in a coma, and immediately underwent brain surgery.
The German driver was skiing with his son on Sunday morning in the French Alpine resort of Meribel when he fell and hit the right side of his head on a rock.
Gerard Saillant, a trauma surgeon who operated on Schumacher when he broke his leg in a 1999 race crash, was at the hospital as a visitor. He told reporters that Schumacher's age -- he turns 45 on January 3 -- and his fitness should work in his favour.
But the neurology team at Grenoble University Hospital was cautious about Schumacher's prognosis.
They lowered his body temperature to between 34 and 35 degrees Celsius as part of the medically induced coma, which essentially rests the brain, reducing the amount of oxygen it needs, and slowing its metabolism to help reduce inflammation after an injury.
The hospital, in a city that is the gateway to the French Alps, sees a large number of skiing accidents every year.
The area where Schumacher was skiing is part of a web of trails that slice down through a vast and, in parts, very steep snowfield. Although challenging, the snowfield is not extreme skiing. The runs are broad and neatly tended, and the ungroomed area in between -- where the resort said Schumacher was found -- is free of trees.
However, Schumacher had ignored advice to skiers to stay on the pistes in the resort, after heavy snow increased the risk of avalanches and obscured rocks.
The resort said Schumacher was conscious when first responders arrived, although agitated and in shock. But Dr Payen said that after the fall Schumacher was not in a "normal state of consciousness". He was not responding to questions and his limbs appeared to move involuntarily, the doctor said. He was airlifted to a local hospital and then later brought to Grenoble.
His wife and other family members were at his bedside.
Last night, former racing boss Eddie Jordan paid tribute to the German driver. Schumacher made his Grand Prix debut with Jordan's team in 1991.
"He was one of the legends of our sport and he did a lot for road safety, behind the crust he was a remarkable man but he's a bit of a daredevil, let's be clear," Mr Jordan said. "He is so resilient, so tough, and I'm sure he's in there fighting."