PARIS — Formula One legend Michael Schumacher may have retired in 2012 after a glittering career but his love for speed and danger has now led to a serious head injury while skiing in France.
The 44-year-old German suffered a blow to the head after hitting a rock at the upmarket Alps resort of Meribel, and although initial reports suggested his injuries were not life-threatening, he was later described by the hospital treating him in Grenoble as being in a critical condition.
The Meribel resort director, Christophe Gernigon-Lecomte, said Schumacher was skiing off-piste late Sunday morning with companions when he fell and struck his head.
After years of racing in the high risk world of Formula One and winning a record seven world titles, his accident suggests that perhaps retirement has not dulled his relish of dangerous pursuits.
As an F1 racer, Schumacher was known for his daring overtaking manoeuvres, his at-times almost reckless abandon in the pursuit of victory and his mastery of the tricky conditions presented by rain.
When he won his first world title in 1994 with Benetton, he did so in controversial fashion, crashing into his title rival Damon Hill at the final race after he had already scuppered his own hopes by going off the track when pushing hard despite leading comfortably.
It was indicative of Schumacher’s win-at-all-costs attitude and his willingness to take huge risks in order to do so.
He almost provoked a similar crash in the final race of the 1997 season when battling Jacques Villeneuve for the title, an incident for which he was retrospectively disqualified from the whole season.
His career was also punctuated by accusations of dangerous driving following incidents such as a near collision with former teammate Rubens Barrichello in 2010, which the Brazilian later described as “the most dangerous thing” he had been through.
But even such mishaps didn’t slow Schumacher down or quench his thirst for success as he went on to win five successive titles with Ferrari from 2000-2004.
He retired at the end of the 2006 season before making a damp squib of a comeback in 2010 with Mercedes.
But during his retirement he survived a horror accident that knocked him out when racing a motorbike in Spain.
That time he was released from hospital after just five hours.
Even so he is the sport’s most decorated champion with a record 91 GP wins, while he is one of only two men to reach 300 races.
In 2000 he also sealed Ferrari’s first championship in 21 years with victory in the penultimate race of the season in Japan.
Schumacher’s duels in his hey-day with Hill, Villeneuve and Mika Hakkinen, fired by an unquenchable competitive spirit, have gone down in Formula One folklore.
Schumacher was born in January 1969 near Cologne, Germany, the son of a bricklayer who also ran the local go-kart track, where his mother worked in the canteen. His younger brother, Ralf also became a successful Formula One driver.
By 1987, Schumacher was the German and European go-kart champion and had left school to work as an apprentice mechanic, although he was soon racing professionally.
In 1990 he won the German F3 championship and was hired by Mercedes to drive sports cars. Just a year later he burst onto the Formula One scene, qualifying seventh for Jordan in his debut race at Belgium.
The young German was immediately snapped up by Benetton, where he won his first Formula One race in 1992, again at Belgium’s tough Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
Schumacher won 18 races over the next four seasons with Benetton, claiming back-to-back world titles in 1994 and 1995.
In 2002 Schumacher won 11 times and finished on the podium in all 17 races.
In 2003, he broke Juan Manuel Fangio’s record by claiming his sixth world title and in 2004 he won 13 races, his greatest season.
But his greatest ever battle may just be commencing as the father of two finds himself battling to recover from a serious accident.