A year after coming out of coma Michael Schumacher shows precious few signs of progress
A year ago came ago the news which left Formula One and Michael Schumacher’s devoted fans finally feeling upbeat, with hope of more positive updates to come. But in the 12 months since Schumacher’s manager announced he was no longer in a coma, there have been precious few messages or signs of progress.
There have not been any bulletins – sparing throughout Schumacher’s ordeal – since the anniversary of the skiing accident last December. Tellingly, the last words on Schumacher came from Bernie Ecclestone, F1’s chief executive and friend of the former Ferrari driver. Confirming he had not visited Schumacher, Ecclestone did not offer encouraging signs.
"I don't want to see Michael like that,” Ecclestone said. “I remember Michael as he was. That is how I want to see Michael. If he comes back, that is how I want Michael to be."
On June 16 last year, Sabine Kehm, the seven-time champion’s manager, confirmed Schumacher had left hospital in Grenoble, France, nearly six months on from the skiing accident in the French Alps which almost killed him.
The German F1 legend was moved to a rehabilitation clinic in Lausanne, Switzerland, closer to the family home on the shore of Lake Geneva. He spent three months there before he left hospital to be at home with his wife, Corinna, children Mick and Gina-Maria, and a specialist team of nurses and doctors to help his recovery.
After that announcement in November, Kehm said: “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.
“We ask that the privacy of Michael’s family continue to be respected, and that speculations about the state of his health are avoided.”
Since then, other than the rejuvenation of Schumacher’s website and a message in December that he faces a “long fight”, that has largely been it. Instead it has been left to speculation and so-called ‘friends’ of the former driver to fill the void.
Ever since a journalist dressed as a priest to try and gain access to Schumacher’s hospital room in the days immediately after the accident in the Alpine resort of Meribel, his family, and particularly his wife, have guarded their privacy fiercely. Schumacher’s son Mick has also been kept from the press on his debut season racing cars in Formula Four this year.
All this means that – officially – very little specific detail is actually known about Schumacher’s condition. The updates from Kehm have simply said he is out of a coma and continuing the long progress of rehabilitation. To where that might eventually lead is unknown, but the mood music does not suggest Schumacher is on the path to a full recovery.
The speculation is that Schumacher is able to recognise his family, but not a great deal more. Philippe Streiff, a former F1 driver who was himself paralysed in a testing accident in 1989, said last year Schumacher “had yet to recover the power of speech” but was “starting to recognise those close to him”.
But Kehm swiftly rebuffed those comments as “factually wrong”. She added: “He is making progress appropriate to the severity of the situation. We need a long time. It's going to be a long time and a hard fight.”
It is a process that seemingly will take many years and even then the eventual outcome is not clear. As the relaunch of Schumacher’s website encouraged his legions of fans to do, the time has come not to stop hoping for good news – his former Mercedes team still carry the ‘#keepingfightingmichael’ message on their car - but to remember all the German’s astonishing achievements.
The record 91 race wins, the seven championships – two with Benetton in 1994 and 1995, and then five with Ferrari from 2000 to 2004 – and the countless drives which astonished F1 and will live long in the memory of many.
As Ecclestone said, this is the Schumacher everyone knows, the one who divided opinion at times but won plaudits as a record-breaking machine. The Schumacher of the last 18 months, even a year on from no longer being in a coma, remains largely a mystery, as is his family’s right. The wait for good news goes on.