Grenoble (France): Formula One legend Michael Schumacher remained "stable" on Wednesday after spending a third night in hospital with severe brain injuries sustained while skiing off-piste in the French Alps.
The German racing great entered the new year in an induced coma and a critical condition, with his family at his bedside in the French Alpine city of Grenoble and doctors unsure of his future.
The 44-year-old`s fight for survival after he fell and slammed his head on a rock on Sunday has shocked legions of fans used to seeing him brave death on the racing tracks.
"At the moment, he is stable," the seven-time world champion`s manager Sabine Kehm told reporters massed outside the hospital in Grenoble on Wednesday, in a brief update before heading back inside.
Initially described as serious but not life-threatening after the accident in the upmarket resort of Meribel, Schumacher`s condition rapidly deteriorated and by Sunday evening, doctors said he was in critical condition and had undergone an emergency operation. On Tuesday, they said a slight improvement in his condition had allowed them to perform a second nearly two-hour long procedure to remove bleeding in the brain, but warned he was "not out of danger" yet.
"We cannot speculate on the future," said Jean-Francois Payen, head of the intensive care unit at the hospital. "We cannot say he is out of danger but we have gained some time."
Doctors have so far ruled out any transfer from the hospital, which they say would be "dangerous".
But they have pointed out that Schumacher, due to turn 45 on January 3, has age and physical fitness on his side. He has been put in a medically induced coma to spur recovery, and his temperature has been reduced to around 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) to reduce swelling.
Schumacher`s accident has prompted an outpouring of sympathy from racing stars and fans alike. Former Formula One driver Niki Lauda, who himself suffered severe injuries in a 1976 racing crash, has also come out in support of the man known fondly as "Schumi".
"I think there is someone up there who is trying to help him in this situation. At the time, I could help myself. Michael, though, cannot do anything for the moment," he said in an interview with the Die Zeit weekly, extracts of which were published Wednesday.
`Chain of unfortunate circumstances`
It is as yet unclear exactly how the accident happened, but a source close to a probe into the incident told AFP that Schumacher`s helmet, which medics say saved his life, had been smashed "in two" by the impact.
Kehm told journalists on Tuesday that Schumacher was skiing "with a small group of friends" as well as his 14-year-old son Mick. She said he was not skiing at high speed when the accident happened. "He seems to have hit a rock as he took a turn. It was a chain of unfortunate circumstances."
Kehm added that the accident could have happened even "at 10 kilometres (six miles) per hour" and took place during "a normal turning manoeuvre".
Several people have tried to sneak through the hospital and approach the former racer, she said. "There apparently was a person dressed up as a priest, who tried to get near Michael. I am asking everyone to let the doctors work and leave the family to spend peaceful time with Michael."
Asked whether the priest was a journalist, she said: "It`s what I was told... We have clearly noted that people are trying to get beyond the press room here in the clinic. It`s revolting, in my opinion."
Schumacher towered over Formula One from his debut in 1991, winning more world titles and races than any other. He first retired aged 37 but was unable to resist the lure of the track and in 2010, he came out of retirement, signing a deal with Mercedes before quitting for good in 2012.
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. But even off-track, he still enjoyed speed and danger.
During his first retirement, Schumacher survived an accident that knocked him out when racing a motorbike in Spain, although that time he was released from hospital after just five hours.