Motor Racing: Schumacher: `I'm lucky to be alive'

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL SCHUMACHER conceded last night that his world championship hopes have gone but that he is grateful to be alive. The 31-year-old German then urged his Ferrari team-mate, Eddie Irvine, to pick up the baton and go for the title.

Schumacher, recovering in Northampton General Hospital from surgery to a broken leg, spoke for the first time about the terror and implications of his crash in Sunday's British Grand Prix. He went off the track at Stowe Corner and plunged into a tyre wall at more than 100mph. He expects to be out for at least two months but is confident of a return before the end of the season.

"I am lucky to be alive," Schumacher, twice the world champion, said. "It was a very scary moment because it was the first time it has ever happened to me. At first I could not get out of the car and I was worried about the situation. I am thankful for the improvements made in the cars over the last few years because that is what has helped me escape with only a broken leg.

"I know I am going to be out of action for two to three months and I realise I have absolutely no chance of the championship this year. But I am confident I'll be back driving a Ferrari in Formula One before the end of the season. I am not depressed, I am feeling positive and I'm looking forward even now."

Schumacher, who had a 12- inch plate inserted in his right leg, managed to joke about the accident. "I have seen videos of it two or three times now and it was not that dramatic."

Surgeon Bill Ribbans said that the operation took 90 minutes and was a complete success, with Schumacher needing just one pin to hold the bones in place, both of which had sustained a clean break.

At a packed press conference, Ribbans added: "Michael is on pain medication. After an accident like this he is having regular analgesics which he is controlling himself according to his needs. I am glad to say that at the moment those needs are fairly minimal."

Schumacher's wife, Corinna, flew in to join him at the hospital on Sunday evening. His brother Ralf, who finished third in the race behind Britain's David Coulthard and Irvine, also spent the night at the hospital.

Schumacher is expected to fly to a private clinic near his home in Switzerland today. He embarked on a course of physiotherapy yesterday and accepts he will miss at least four races, including his home grand prix at Hockenheim.

A hospital spokesman said: "Surgeons would say the recovery period for an injury like this is 12 to 16 weeks, but that is for everyday people."

His earliest possible target appears to be the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, on 12 September. Even if he makes that, he will have a maximum of four races this season and already trails the reigning champion, Finland's Mika Hakkinen, by eight points.

The onus is now on Irvine - level with Schumacher in the points standings - to deliver Ferrari their first drivers' title in 20 years. "My message to Eddie is - just go for it," Schumacher said.

The Ferrari manager, Jean Todt, believes a rear brake failure caused the accident. He said: "Michael was lucky just to break his right leg. A few years ago I would have feared the worst. He is well and is quite happy about the way things are progressing. He's in good spirits."

Among Schumacher's visitors yesterday was Britain's last world champion, Damon Hill. The Jordan-Mugen driver was still deciding whether he had raced his last grand prix at Silverstone or would be continuing until the end of the season.

Irvine steps up, page 26

Silverstone offer, page 21