Champion driver still in induced coma after serious head injury.

Michael Schumacher's treatment for severe head injuries has entered a decisive 48-hour period that will determine whether he survives, his doctors said yesterday.

The seven-times Formula 1 world champion, who fell and hit his head on a rock while skiing off-piste, would have died if he had not been wearing a ski helmet, medics said. According to one report, the impact was so severe that the helmet cracked.

Specialists refused to speculate on whether he would survive or whether he has suffered permanent brain damage, as his treatment was being taken "hour by hour". However, he has "a great number of lesions" on his brain after his accident in the French Alps on Monday.

The German, 44, remained critically ill in a coma and was being kept in a state of hypothermia to minimise the risk of further brain damage. Doctors said his supreme fitness would help in his fight to stay alive.


David Coulthard, who raced against Schumacher for 13 years, backed his friend to "come through the greatest challenge of his life" as former drivers and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, sent messages of support.

Schumacher had ignored advice to skiers to stay on the pistes in the resort of Meribel, where he owns a chalet, after heavy snow increased the risk of avalanches and obscured rocks.

He hit the right side of his head and Jean-Francois Payen, chief anaesthetist at the Grenoble University Hospital Centre where Schumacher was being treated, said his helmet "protected him in part" from the violence of the impact, adding: "Someone who hadn't been wearing a helmet would not have got here. Despite the helmet he has serious lesions [injuries]." He added: "It is too early, at this stage, to make a judgment about the future of Michael Schumacher. His situation is critical."

He said Schumacher had had emergency surgery after arriving at the hospital to remove blood from a haematoma, or bleeding inside the brain, and there were no plans for a second operation. The haematoma caused swelling in a critical location in the brain.

Professor Stephan Chabardes, the neurosurgeon who operated on him, said: "The next 24 hours are critical. We monitor developments. The next 24 or 48 hours will be decisive."

Schumacher's body was being kept at a temperature of 34C to 35C, below normal, to reduce the brain's need for oxygen. Doctors said he was in "an artificial coma and a state of hypothermia".

Schumacher was skiing with his 14-year-old-son, Michael jnr, when he fell.