Michael Schumacher remains in a critical condition in hospital as doctors revealed he would not have survived his skiing accident had he not been wearing a helmet.
The seven-time Formula One champion is in an induced coma in intensive care at the University Hospital of Grenoble after hitting his head on a rock in a crash in the resort of Meribel in the French Alps on Sunday.
Doctors treating the 44-year-old German said at a press conference they could not speculate on his prognosis.
But they said without his helmet he would already be dead.
They said: “We believe that taking into consideration the very violent shock, his helmet did protect him to a certain extent.
“Someone who would have had this accident without a helmet, he would certainly have not got to here.”
Doctors said the brain scan Schumacher underwent on his arrival at the hospital showed “a great number of lesions”.
The former racing driver is receiving treatment to reduce the pressure on the brain.
Doctors said: “The brain scan showed some intracranial haematoma, but also some cerebral contusions and edema. We operated urgently to try and eliminate the haematoma. After the operation we saw that we had been able to eliminate the haematoma, but also sadly the appearance of various bilateral lesions and so therefore he was taken to intensive care to try to help him.”
They added: “His condition is critical as far as cerebral care. All the recommended treatments have been introduced.”
They said he had only been operated on once and a second operation was at the moment not looking necessary.
Schumacher’s family – he has two children with his wife Corinna – are at his bedside.
The doctors insisted it was far too early to make predictions about Schumacher’s future health.
“For the moment we are not able to express ourselves with regard to Michael Schumacher’s future,” they said.
Brain injury ‘poses ongoing risk’
A neurosurgeon has said the injury Schumacher suffered in a ski crash is likely to pose an ongoing risk as doctors attempt to reduce swelling and stem a potential brain bleed.
Reflecting on reports that the seven-times Formula One champion was communicating with doctors and family immediately after the accident, traumatic brain injury specialist Tony Belli said a sudden decline was typical of brain swelling.
He said: “From what we know, he is in a critical state and in intensive care at the moment.
“It’s likely he will be on a breathing machine with complex monitoring equipment around him and he’s likely to be in a coma still.
“Initially, from what I gather, he was talking and trying to reassure people but then he became unconscious quite rapidly.
“That would suggest that he probably had brain swelling and that’s something that can happen quite often - people initially seem to be OK, and then the brain begins to swell up and things get more serious.”
The consultant at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham told ITV’s Daybreak programme: “You’re dealing with a swollen brain, and often the brain bleeds quite easily.
“The brain is very friable and it obviously has to be handled with a lot of care, particularly when it’s swollen - it can actually sustain further damage during the operation itself.
“The bleeding in itself could be quite serious because, unfortunately, when the brain has been bruised, it can carry on bleeding for quite some time during the surgery itself.”
Shock and prayers heard around Formula One
Leading names in motor racing reacted with shock on Twitter.
“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 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.
Schumacher is the most successful Formula One driver of all time with a record 91 race victories in a 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.