Three-time Formula One world champion Niki Lauda has described Michael Schumacher’s skiing accident as “shocking and unexplainable” as the most successful driver in the history of the sport continues to fight for his life in the Grenoble University Hospital.
Schumacher underwent surgery immediately upon arrival after he hit his head on a rock while skiing in the exclusive resort of Meribel in the Three Valleys region of the French Alps, and the 44-year-old remains in an induced coma with doctors unsure over his chances of survival.
Lauda, current non-executive chairman at Mercedes who worked with Schumacher following his comeback from retirement, suffered a horrendous crash at the Nordschleife track at the Nürburgring in 1976, yet survived the near-fatal accident to return to the track despite fears over his health.
The Austrian said: “I find it completely shocking and unexplainable why this great driver, who won seven championships in over 300 races and stayed alive, could have something like this happen to him. It's tragic.
“He was the greatest driver of them all, with seven titles. Only the great Juan Manuel Fangio comes close to him, with five. He was the perfect racer, with speed, instinct and a great technical understanding.
Lauda won two of his three titles with Ferrari, the team that Schumacher returned to the top of the sport with his five consecutive drivers' world championships between 2000-2004.
“Michael is a very good skier and what happened to him could have happened to anyone," continued Lauda. "He's a perfect man, a solid man, an outstanding guy. He would not take unnecessary risks. He's not stupid. I certainly would not expect him to do something crazy in front of his own son.”
Fangio earned his success in the highly dangerous 1950’s when fatal accident haunted the sport through to Lauda’s era, and he once described Schumacher – largely seen as his successor to the greatest there has been – as “the greatest of adventurers” due to his love of skydiving, motorcycling, horse-riding and indeed skiing.
Career in Pictures: Michael Schumacher
Career in Pictures: Michael Schumacher
1/17 February 2006
Michael Schumacher is seen in the pits during a training session at the Ricardo Tormo racetrack in Cheste near Valencia in 2006
2/17 November 1994
Hugging two team mechanics in delight for becoming World Champion Driver after the Australian Grand Prix at the Adelaide circuit in November 1994
3/17 October 1995
Flavio Briatore carries a jubilant Michael after he wins the Pacific F1 Grand Prix at Aida in Japan, and wins his second World Drivers Championshp
4/17 February 1996
Schmacher pushes his Ferrari back to the pits after engine trouble left him stranded at the entrance of the pitlane during pre-season testing at Estoril, Portugal
5/17 March 1996
During the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne
6/17 March 1997
Michael Schumacher in the pit lane during the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia
7/17 October 2000
Celebrating on the podium after winning the formula one world championship at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, Japan
8/17 July 2006
Michael Schumacher of Germany and Ferrari leads the pack into the first corner at the start of the French Formula One Grand Prix at the Nevers Magny-Cours Circuit
Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images
9/17 October 2010
Michael Schumacher drives during the Korean Formula One Grand Prix at the Korea International Circuit
Clive Mason/Getty Images
10/17 October 2011
Michael Schumacher and Mercedes GP waves to the crowd as he attends the drivers parade before the Indian Formula One Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit on October 30, 2011 in Noida, India
11/17 December 2011
Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher celebrate after winning the Nations Cup at day one of the race of champions event at the Esprit Arena
12/17 June 2012
Michael Schumacher drives at the Valencia Street Circuit on June 22, 2012 in Valencia during the first practice race of the European Formula One Grand Prix
13/17 September 2012
Michael Schumacher crashes into the back of Jean-Eric Vergne of France and Scuderia Toro Rosso during the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix in September 2012
14/17 November 2012
Schumacher drives in his last race during the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace
Mark Thompson/Getty Images
15/17 December 2013
Deputy director Jean Marc Grenier talks to media outside the CHU Nord hospital in Grenoble, French Alps
16/17 December 2013
Members of the staff are seen outside the emergency services at the CHU Nord hospital in Grenoble, French Alps; this is the hospital where retired seven-times Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher is reported to be hospitalized after a ski accident
17/17 December 2013
A Scuderia Ferrari and Michael Schumacher fan waits, on December 29, in Grenoble, in front of the emergency department of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire hospital
“We racing drivers are adventurers,” said Fangio in the 1990s. “ The more difficult something is, the greater the attraction that comes from it. Michael Schumacher is the greatest of the adventurers.”
F1 drivers are commonly regarded as thrill seekers or adrenaline junkies, and it is not uncommon for them to get into difficulty – sometimes life-threatening – away from the high speeds of the tack.
Former drivers Didier Pironi and Graham Hill were both killed in accidents that didn’t involve racing, with the Italian suffering fatal injuries in a boating accident and three-time champion Hill killed in a plane crash when his private jet was caught up in heavy fog.
World rally champion Colin McRae was also tragically killed along with his five-year-old son Johnny when his helicopter crashed near the family home in Lanark.
Many other drivers have been injured which includes Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen, while Robert Kubica’s F1 career looks to have been brought to a premature end when he suffered near-fatal injuries in a rallying accident.
Lauda added that the news so far had not left him very optimistic, but he remains hopeful that Schumacher can make a recovery in any way possible. “The news is not encouraging at all. That is my worry and that is why I'm praying for him.”
1996 world champion Damon Hill, son of Graham, also added his best: “We are all praying for Michael's speedy and full recovery and our thoughts are with Corinna [Schumacher's wife] and the children.”
Hill’s fellow Sky Sports F1 analyst Martin Brundle, who was team-mates with Schumacher during their days with Benetton, said: “ Michael's accident is distressing and a great shock, and we have to be very concerned about his chances of survival and return to full health. From what we are told it looks very serious indeed, and we can only hope for the best along with his lovely family.
“Michael loves to challenge race tracks on superbikes and he often excitedly shows his many amazing skydiving pictures on his phone. He's only a year out of the F1 cockpit but as a driven and competitive person you can't simply switch off and settle down at the end of a long career.
“You need challenges and achievements to keep the adrenalin flowing. But from what I read he wasn't taking undue risks on the ski slopes, and it seems he's been very unlucky on this one. It's not uncommon for racers to survive many big accidents to then be injured in cars, aviation, bikes, on water, or indeed ski slopes. The need for machinery and speed will always be there, it's inevitable.”
Another of Brundle’s team-mates – from their Formula 3 days – was Ayrton Senna, who was the last F1 driver to suffer a fatal crash while competing when he died during the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola in 1994. Schumacher was running in second behind the Brazilian when his Williams veered off track on the seventh lap, and Brundle, who remains extremely fond of the three-time world champion – remarked that the situation regarding Schumacher is all too familiar.
“When I read that Michael had received a blow to the right side of his head I couldn't help but think of Ayrton [Senna], and pondered why these things so often happen to the truly great,” said Brundle.
Former F1 driver and current British Racing Drivers Club president Derek Warwick believes that if anyone can pull through the injuries it will be the determined Schumacher.
“The world of motorsport is holding their breath at the moment. It is a very difficult time for everybody, it makes us realise how vulnerable we are,” said Warwick, who is a big fan of all forms of motorsport ranging from cars to bikes, but also plays a major part in track safety through his work with the Motor Sports Association.
“People have to remember that racing drivers and bike riders are a different breed of people. They don't seek danger but we are people that live life to the maximum. I still do to this day and I am now 59 years old.”