sport

Schumacher family 'moved by vigil'

Michael Schumacher's family say they been "utterly overwhelmed" and "moved to tears" by the birthday vigil held by fans on Friday.

Scores of fans and well-wishers held a birthday vigil outside the French hospital where he is being treated for serious head injuries following a skiing accident last weekend.

Schumacher should have been celebrating his 45th birthday with his family on Friday but instead remained in an artificially-induced coma at the Grenoble University Hospital, where he was rushed following Sunday's accident in the Alpine resort of Meribel.

Some 200 people from Ferrari fan clubs based around Europe made the trip to the hospital, where a tribute was held in support of the seven-time Formula One world champion. The scores of well-wishers also held a one-minute silence on Friday afternoon.

Schumacher's family, who on Thursday said Michael "is a fighter and will not give up" his fight for life, expressed their sincere appreciation following Friday's tributes, which were largely co-ordinated by Ferrari, with whom the German driver won five of his seven world titles.

"The incredible sympathies shown today by the Ferrari Fans outside the hospital has utterly overwhemed us and moved us all to tears," Schumacher's family said in a statement on his official website.

"We are deeply grateful for it and also for all the heartwarming and heartfelt wishes for Michael to get well soon, which have reached us from all over the world."

Schumacher's family - wife Corinna and their two children, father Rolf and brother Ralf - have maintained a presence at his bedside since the weekend.

Schumacher enjoys a special place in the hearts of all Ferrari fans, having won the world drivers' title for five successive years between 2000 and 2004 while driving for the Scuderia. Seventy-two of his record 91 grand prix wins also came at the wheel of Ferrari cars.

A Ferrari statement read: "This is a special day for Ferrari and all its fans as it is Michael Schumacher's birthday.

"At the moment, he is tackling the most important fight of his life and therefore we want to send him very special wishes.

"Everyone at Ferrari, from president Luca di Montezemolo and team principal Stefano Domenicali, who are in touch all the time with Michael's family and those closest to him, are continuously watching how his situation evolves.

"Obviously, today there are double the reasons to wish him all the best.

"Forza Michael!"

No update was given on Schumacher's condition by the hospital or his management on Thursday and that remained the case on Friday.

Schumacher suffered major brain trauma in the accident which occurred when skiing off-piste in the resort of Meribel in France. It is believed that his life was saved by his skiing helmet, which split on impact.

Schumacher was initially conscious before deteriorating into a critical condition.

Rescuers were on hand within minutes of the accident and he was airlifted to Grenoble hospital, where neurosurgeons have operated twice to remove blood clots on the brain and reduce swelling.

Doctors have said the impact caused numerous brain injuries including intracranial hematomas (multiple blood clots), bilateral lesions and bruising of the brain.

An initial operation carried out on Sunday to reduce swelling was followed by a second to remove the largest of a number of clots in his brain. Jacqueline Hubert, the Grenoble hospital's director general, said on Tuesday that his condition had started to improve.