Michael Schumacher turned 47 last week, just five days after the second anniversary of the skiing accident that has so reduced him. Both dates passed without any significant update on his condition. Exactly what that is we do not know. Snippets appear here and there, usually followed by fiery denials from the family, pleading for their privacy to be respected.
While that is something any reasonable soul would uphold, the desire for information about the health of arguably the greatest racing driving of them all is surely understandable. Schumacher at his peak, though crudely caricatured in some quarters as a villainous schemer, was nevertheless admired by millions, and unconditionally so in Italy, home to the Ferrari team with whom he won five of his seven world titles, and Germany, the land of his birth.
Interest in heroes like Schumacher does not end when the racing stops. And concern about his welfare cannot fairly be dismissed as prying into his private affairs. There is a balance to be struck between the need to act in Schumacher’s best interests and the obligation to keep informed the millions of genuine Schumi fans who simply want to understand better the plight of their hero.
More than 24 months after he hit his head against a rock in what at first appeared an innocuous tumble, it is fair to assume the family have adjusted to his condition, however shocking the initial turn of events. Indeed Schumacher’s son, Mick, is robustly pursuing his own racing career, having migrated last year from karts into single-seaters.
Schumacher is attended by a team of experts administering the best treatment money can buy. After six months in a coma, he was released from hospital in Grenoble to a facility nearer home in Lausanne, and three months after that returned to his house overlooking Lake Geneva, pretty much to a news blackout.
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
The problem with no news is the void it creates, and the speculation that fills it. The official commentary, largely delivered by his long-time press aide Sabine Kehm, talks of a long road ahead. While Sabine is careful to refer to the severity of his condition, the idea that Schumacher might by some miracle come back to us is not entirely dismissed. Rather, that possibility is dangled before us as an abstraction. There is always hope, as it were.
In the absence of anything more substantial some latch on to this morsel and read into it the possibility that he might recover sufficiently to return to public life in some capacity. To give this position oxygen amounts to a cruelty when measured against the commentary of experts like former Formula One medical delegate Dr Gary Hartstein, who suggests that a patient with Schumacher’s class of head trauma is unlikely to improve.
The family are clearly investing in the idea that round-the-clock treatment by as many as 15 medical professionals, monitoring, massaging, turning etc, might stimulate improved responses. After all, this kind of intense intervention, thought to cost £100,000 a week, is not available to your average trauma patient and therefore falls outside normal measurable reactions.
If the family think this way – and who can blame them? – it does not take much of a leap for the unknowing Schumi devotee to imagine the miracle recovery is on, given the preternatural gifts he demonstrated behind the wheel.
Blokes like Schumacher are not confined by the mundane standards of mortals. They are special people capable of extraordinary things. This is what not knowing does to fans: it feeds into a profound wish that Schumi will be well again. In other words, it gives them false hope.
Surely they deserve better than that. It would not be an attack on the privacy of Schumacher to report honestly on his state of health. Schumacher is both private individual and public figure. We don’t need to know the minutiae of his treatment. We do not need to know what passes between his wife and other family members in those intimate moments at his bedside.
It would, however, be a kindness to understand more clearly the nature of his condition and his prospects, for better or for worse. That way we can come to terms with whatever that reality is and adjust accordingly. That is not being nosy. It is being appropriately concerned for one of the greatest champions in the history of any sport.
If we are to respect Schumacher’s right to privacy, perhaps the family might respect the interest in Michael’s welfare that is shared by millions across the world who care deeply about his lot.
Better a bulletin from them than the intrusion of bogus priests seeking illicit updates, or the incursion of thieves stealing medical records in the dead of night.
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