Formula 1 - 'Unlucky' Schumacher stable, but unimproved

Michael Schumacher is stable in hospital, according to the latest update on his condition.

The former racing driver's manager announced on New Year's Day that there has been neither improvement nor deterioration in the 44-year-old's condition since doctors gave an update on Tuesday following a second operation.

With "no signifcant changes" to report, Sabine Kehm explained that doctors did not feel another press conference on Wednesday was necessary.

"Michael's condition has been supervised all the night and has remained stable over the night and also now," Kehm said, cautioning that he is still not out of danger - though Professor Jean-Francois Payen of the hospital in Grenoble said on Tuesday that "the more hours he spends in a stable situation, the better it is."

She also gave further details of the accident itself, and - contrary to some early reports - Schumacher had not been travelling at high speed.

Instead, he had been going relatively slowly along with his son, the two of them skiing as part of a large group - and had stopped to help a friend in difficulties just before the accident.

"Michael and the group had been skiing on normal slopes. In between red and blue slopes there was an [off-piste] area and they went into that," Kehm said.

"He helped a friend who had fallen and went into deep snow, hit a rock and was catapulted into the air and landed head down. It was extreme bad luck, not because he was at speed."

Kehm also added that Schumacher's helmet - which doctors credited with giving the driver a chance of survival - had cracked in two during the accident. Helmets are designed to crack on impact in order to absorb force.

In addition Kehm confirmed the reports that a journalist had tried to sneak into the stricken star's room by dressing as a priest.

The medical condition of seven-times Formula One world champion had been described as slightly better on Tuesday following a second operation during the night to treat head injuries he sustained in a skiing accident.

"The situation is more under control than yesterday but we cannot say he is out of danger," Jean-Francois Payen, head anaesthetician had told the news conference on Tuesday at the CHU hospital in the eastern French city of Grenoble.

"We have won some time but we must continue an hour-by-hour surveillance... It is premature to speculate on his condition," he said, adding that it could still be qualified as "critical" and that "the hours to come are crucial."

Emmanuel Gay, head of the hospital's neurosurgery service, said the operation carried out during the night involved removing a large hematoma - the medical term for a build-up of blood - from the left-hand side of Schumacher's brain.

"It was larger and more accessible (than others) ... We judged we could remove it without taking any risks," Gay said.

He said the operation was designed to reduce, within Schumacher's skull, the pressure on the brain, which suffered injuries including lesions and contusions from Sunday's fall.

The retired motor racing champion, 44, slammed his head on a rock while skiing off-piste on Sunday morning in the French Alpine resort of Meribel, where he has a vacation home.

Doctors said the fact that he was wearing a helmet had enabled him to make it to the hospital alive.

Payen said the medical team in Grenoble had discussed the operation with Schumacher's family. He said the condition of the German motor racing great was still too fragile to consider transferring him to another hospital for the time being.

His wife, Corinna, daughter Gina Maria and son Mick are all now with him in hospital in a bedside vigil.

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[Factbox: Former F1 champion Michael Schumacher]

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BACKGROUND

Retired seven-times Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher was in 'critical' condition with head injuries after an off-piste skiing accident in the French Alps resort of Meribel.

The 44-year-old German was in hospital in Grenoble.

"He suffered head trauma with coma that needed prompt neurosurgical treatment," Schumacher's agent Sabine Kehm said in a statement late on Sunday evening, which a hospital official read to reporters.

"He remains in a critical condition."

(Photo: Michael Schumacher was taken by helicopter to the CHU hospital in Grenoble)

Christophe Gernigon-Lecomte, the director of the Meribel ski resort where Schumacher has a holiday home, said earlier that the former champion was wearing a helmet when he fell and hit his head on a rock at around 11:00. CET (10:00 UK time).

He added that the German had been conscious while being transported first to a local hospital in Moutiers before then being transferred to Grenoble. "He was conscious but very agitated while being taken to hospital," said the director.

It is a feature of head injuries that the patient can initially appear relatively unhurt, before their condition worsens as the brain swells.

(Photo: A fan waits anxiously for updates outside the hospital in Grenoble)

In Germany, Schumacher's accident topped news bulletins, with the bestselling tabloid newspaper Bild reporting on its website: "Schumi fighting for his life".

Bild reporters also said that Ross Brawn, the Briton who worked with Schumacher at Ferrari and Mercedes as technical director and team principal respectively, had arrived in Grenoble.

The Formula One community, and the wider world of motorsport, reacted with shock and prayers on social network Twitter for the champion to win his biggest battle.

"If anyone can pull through, it's him," said Britain's triple Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti, who is still walking on crutches after a huge crash in October that ended his racing career.

"Come on Michael, give us one of those race stints at pure qualifying pace to win through, like you used to. You can do it," said Schumacher's former Benetton team mate Martin Brundle.

Former Ferrari team mate Felipe Massa, who suffered a near fatal head injury at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, said he was praying for his friend.

(Photo: File photo of Schumacher on a skiing trip in 2006)

Schumacher is the most successful Formula One driver of all time with a record 91 race victories in an extraordinary - and frequently controversial - career spanning more than two decades.

He won his first two titles with Benetton in 1994, the year when Brazilian triple champion Ayrton Senna died in a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix, and 1995.

The German then took five in a row with Ferrari between 2000 and 2004 in what now seems a golden age for the Italian team who named a square after him at their Fiorano test track.

Schumacher left the sport last year after a less successful three-year comeback with Mercedes following an earlier retirement from Ferrari at the end of 2006. He lives in Switzerland with his wife and two children.

(Photo: Schumacher celebrates one of his 91 race wins, the 2006 Italian Grand Prix)