Michael Schumacher continues biggest fight of his decorated career

Michael Schumacher is still being cared for at home in the quiet Swiss town of Gland on the shores of Lake Geneva. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)
Updated 18 March 2018
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Michael Schumacher continues biggest fight of his decorated career

LONDON: As Formula One drivers prepare for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix next weekend, Michael Schumacher continues a very different fight far away.
There remains huge respect for the seven-times F1 champion who, more than four years after a near-fatal brain injury in a skiing accident, is still being cared for at home in the quiet Swiss town of Gland on the shores of Lake Geneva. He has been treated there since September 2014. The thick forest surrounding his castle-like home provides sanctuary from fan and media intrusion with high surrounding walls.
While his family fiercely protects his privacy, Schumacher’s reputation still towers over F1, and fans of all ages continue to adore him.
“What can be said is that the family really appreciates the empathy of the fans,” Schumacher’s manager Sabine Kehm told The Associated Press by telephone. “The people really do see and understand (his health situation) is not to be shared in the public eye.”
The current condition of the 49-year-old German’s health remains closely guarded. Kehm would not comment on it when asked by the AP.
On March 18, 2012 — exactly six years ago — Schumacher began the last season of his F1 career at the Australian GP in Melbourne. He secured the last of his mammoth 155 podiums that year at the European GP in Valencia on June 24, 2012, before retiring definitively at the age of 43.
In his last race Schumacher finished seventh behind Sebastian Vettel. It felt somewhat like a changing of the guard, with Vettel growing up with posters of his German countryman on his wall.
A little more than a year later, Schumacher was fighting for his life.

NEAR-FATAL ACCIDENT
While skiing with his teenage son Mick in the French Alps at Meribel, Schumacher fell on Dec. 29, 2013.
He hit the right side of his head on a rock, splitting open his helmet. Doctors worked frantically to remove blood clots from his brain, but some were left because they were too deeply embedded. Schumacher’s condition stabilized after he was placed in a drug-induced coma, from which he later emerged.
Following his accident, updates went from scarce to non-existent as those around him sought to protect his privacy. Understandably so, amid fears stolen medical records were going to be sold, and unsourced speculation saying Schumacher had slowly started walking again. Reported figures estimated his treatment at more than €23 million ($28 million) and counting. The exasperated family stopped communicating altogether.
“Michael’s health is not a public issue, and so we will continue to make no comment in that regard,” Kehm said. “Legally seen and in the longer term, every statement related to his health would diminish the extent of his intimate sphere.”
That statement was made 16 months ago.

NEVER FORGOTTEN
On an F1 track near Barcelona this month, a red flag fluttered over a grandstand facing Ferrari’s garage.
Two words were written on it — MICHAEL FOREVER — in a permanent testimony to his five titles with Ferrari from 2000 to 2004.
Schumacher quit F1 in 2006 after finishing second to Fernando Alonso by only 13 points in a bid for an eighth title. When he announced his comeback for 2010, he swapped the flashy red of Ferrari for the gleaming silver of Mercedes.
Schumacher’s record seven titles and 91 wins made him an F1 colossus.
“He was the benchmark of the physical approach, of the mental approach,” said 33-year-old Polish driver Robert Kubica, who grew up watching Schumacher and himself earned 12 F1 podiums from 2006 to 2010.

FERRARI FUROR
Amid the frenzy of Ferrari’s success at the turn of the decade, F1 even threatened to give soccer a challenge for pole position in the hearts of Italian sports fans.
In 2000, Schumacher delivered Ferrari its first world title since Jody Scheckter in 1979.
“I remember the top audience in Italy on TV was 12 million. He was very popular all over Italy,” veteran Italian sports journalist Stefano Mancini told the AP. Mancini, who has covered F1 since 2000 with Turin-based newspaper La Stampa, said “the atmosphere was incredible. Calcio (soccer) is always first, but it was also about Formula One.”
Even then, access to Schumacher was not easy. Mancini remembers Schumacher as someone who “wanted to protect his privacy” and described him as “shy, reserved.”
Until it came to karaoke time.
During Schumacher’s pomp, a handful of Italian F1 journalists would join him on a pre-season ski trip to Madonna Di Campiglio in the Italian Dolomites. They all lodged at the cavernous Golf Hotel.
“There was a room with a karaoke and bar,” the 55-year-old Mancini said.
Schumacher’s choice of song is of little surprise.
“‘My Way,’ by Frank Sinatra,” Mancini said. “He was a good singer.”

HAMILTON’S HOMAGE
At F1 pre-season testing in Montmelo near Barcelona, no driver was too busy to speak about Schumacher, amid clear respect for the driver widely considered the best ever along with the late Ayrton Senna.
Like Schumacher in his junior days, Lewis Hamilton excelled at karting growing up.
Even though Schumacher was by then an F1 star, the lure of going back in time prompted the German driver to compete in a karting race. Hamilton was there, still a teenager.
“It was in 2001, and the word was Michael was coming to race ... and he raced in our class,” Hamilton recalled. “I just remember being on the track with him and I thought ‘That was cool.’”
Five years later, Hamilton was breaking into F1 when Schumacher was racing in his then-last season.
“I think I was testing, it must have been in 2006. I saw him ahead of me and I thought ‘Oh my God, I’m in Formula One and there’s Michael Schumacher,’” Hamilton said. “He pulled away from me because I couldn’t keep up with him at the time. It was a surreal moment.”
When the 41-year-old Schumacher came out of retirement, Hamilton competed against him in 2010.
“The weather wasn’t great. It was wet. I remember pulling into (the paddock) afterward and my car was parked behind him,” Hamilton said. “He really spoke to me on the same level and it was just awesome to meet a great.”
Hamilton is now such a great. He replaced Schumacher at Mercedes in 2013, winning three F1 titles to add to his first with McLaren in 2008. Last season, the 33-year-old British driver broke Schumacher’s record of 68 pole positions. He took No. 69 at the Italian GP in Monza: Ferrari’s home.

INSPIRING A NEW GENERATION
Two years ago, Ferrari signed up 20-year-old Charles Leclerc to its prestigious drivers’ academy.
As soon as he set foot there, the Frenchman, who makes his F1 debut next Sunday for the Sauber team, felt Schumacher’s “enormous” influence all around him.
“They push us as hard as possible, so we have the same will to learn. He never gave up. I never knew him personally but a lot of people at the (academy) have said that,” Leclerc told the AP at pre-season testing. “After four world titles, quite a few drivers would have eased up a bit, but everyone told me that he continued to work just as much, as if he was going for his first. I think that’s an enormous strength. It inspires me a lot and I try to reproduce it.”
As a youth, Leclerc was mesmerized watching Schumacher on television.
“Seeing him gave me even more will to succeed and to maybe one day have the same success,” said Leclerc, who won the F2 championship in 2017 in some style. “I’m very, very far away, but it makes you dream.”
Max Verstappen, F1’s rising star, is the same age as Leclerc but has already won three races.
The Red Bull driver’s fearless driving style has drawn early comparisons to Schumacher.
His father, Jos Verstappen, was Schumacher’s teammate when he won his first title with Benetton in 1994. They became friends, holidaying together with young Max and the younger Mick in tow.
Mick Schumacher competed in the European F3 championship last year, securing a podium.
Like Verstappen before him, he hopes to follow his father into F1.

GIVING BACK
Schumacher’s family appreciates the unfailing support from fans.
From June 16 onwards, The Michael Schumacher Private Collection — including cars, race-worn helmets and other memorabilia from his F1 days — will be displayed at an old airport in the Germany city of Cologne.
“It is to give back to the fans,” Kehm said. “To celebrate Michael the racing driver.”


WORLD CUP REVIEW: Magic Luka Modric, Paul Pogba perfection and a blundering Brazilian.

Updated 2 min 53 sec ago
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WORLD CUP REVIEW: Magic Luka Modric, Paul Pogba perfection and a blundering Brazilian.

France’s 4-2 victory over Croatia on Sunday was the best World Cup final since 1982 and closed out what was a brilliant, drama-packed tournament. Here we look back at the past four and half weeks in Russia to give you our highlights of a memorable month.

MATCH OF THE TOURNAMENT — Belgium 3-2 Japan

In a tournament packed with tense, closely fought matches this was easily the most dramatic. With 21 minutes to go Belgium’s “Golden Generation” were 2-0 down and staring at a shock second-round exit at the hands of Japan. But they proved that alongside the flair and finesse, they also had backbone as strikes from Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini levelled the score before 90 minutes. That then set up a memorable finale as the Red Devils brilliantly counterattacked in added time with Romulu Lukaku dummying for Nacer Chadli to fire home the late winner.
Subs bench: France 4-3 Argentina, Spain 3-3 Portugal, Spain 2-2 Morocco.

PLAYER OF THE TOURNAMENT — Luka Modric

There was a moment in Croatia’s 2-1 extra-time win against England where the midfield maestro’s legs had clearly gone and he was running on pure adrenaline. Yet, even after 105 minutes Modric still went in search of the ball, still looked to create the all-important winner, he never gave up and never looked anything other than pure class. That summed up the entire tournament for the Real Madrid man, and although he ended up on the losing side in the final he was easily the most impressive player in Russia.
Subs bench: Kylian Mbappe, Raphael Varane, Eden Hazard.

GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT — Benjamin Pavard

There are certain ingredients you need to win goal of the tournament. A touch of brilliant technique, a dollop of great team play, a slice of “did you just see that” reaction, and for it to come at an important time in the match. Pavard’s volley from 30 yards had all four of those in abundance: 2-1 down to Argentina in the second-round clash, Les Bleus were in need of a bit of magic and while Mbappe rightly took many of the plaudits for his two goals, it was Pavard’s strike that galvanized the French and set them on their way to World Cup glory.

SHOCK OF THE TOURNAMENT — Germany’s early exit

If anyone tells you they thought the defending champions would not get out of the group, there is a very high chance that they are lying. They were ranked No.1 and, while they came into the tournament with a few issues (Leroy Sane dropped, Mezut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan’s photo op with Turkish president Recep Erdogan), no one thought they would depart as early as they did. They were outclassed by Mexico, needed a last-minute winner against Sweden and looked clueless during their 2-0 defeat to South Korea — it was as embarrassing as it was surprising.

LOSER OF THE TOURNAMENT — Neymar

Where do we start? We could go with the pathetic diving and play acting which would have shamed a four-year-old, the fact he rarely hit the heights that would befit the most expensive player in the history of the game, or we could go with his ridiculous haircut. But what most embarrassed him was his naked narcissism. The fact is that Philippe Coutinho was Brazil’s best player in Russia, but Neymar insisted on taking all the free kicks and being the center of attention. The sooner he realizes that football is a team game and that there are players as good, if not better, than him then the sooner Brazil may win the World Cup again. As long as they pander to Neymar’s inflated opinion of himself they have little chance.

TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT. (3-5-2)

Goalkeeper — Jordan Pickford (England): Was the star of England’s unexpected march to the semifinals.

Defense — Raphael Varane (France): The best player in the best defense of the whole tournament, sheer class. Harry Maguire (England): Made a name for himself in Russia, will be around for many years to come. Diego Godin (Uruguay): As dominant and solid a defender as you are likely to find.

Midfield — Thomas Meunier (Belgium): In a side packed full of attacking talent Meunier proved one of the most dangerous attackers from deep. Ivan Perisic (Croatia): Brilliant on the ball and always a threat, Perisic was one of the key men behind Croatia’s run to the final. Luka Modric (Croatia): The best player on the ball in Russia was also the best player in the tournament. Paul Pogba (France): How Manchester United fans will wish he could reproduce his mature and dominating performances in Russia for them. Eden Hazard (Belgium): The best dribbler in Russia was always a constant menace for opposition defenses.

Forwards — Kylian Mbappe (France): It is frightening to think just how good he can become. Romelu Lukaku (Belgium): All his goals came from open play and was one of the key reasons behind Belgium’s good tournament.

Subs bench: Thibaut Courtois (Belgium), Yerry Mina (Colombia), Kieran Trippier (England), N’Golo Kante (France), Denis Cheryshev (Russia), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal).