Only close family and a handful of trusted friends are allowed through the high gates of Michael Schumacher’s house on the shores of Lake Geneva.
And silence has surrounded the German state since he hit his head six and a half years ago while skiing in the French Alps. Several life-saving surgeries and 254 days in the hospital followed.
One of the few welcome callers is Jean Todt, Schumacher’s former Ferrari team boss and now in his penultimate year as president of Formula 1’s governing body, the FIA.
FIA President Jean Todt (left) has opened up to his stricken friend Michael Schumacher (right)
Todt was the team leader for Ferrari when Schumacher drove and won titles for the team
Speaking in Budapest, where Lewis Hamilton took pole position – the 90th of his career – for the Hungarian Grand Prix, the Frenchman chose his words carefully, loyally and only when pressed. “I saw Michael last week,” he said. ‘He’s fighting. I hope the world will be able to see him again. That is what he and his family are working towards. ‘
The two men worked together in a symbiotic union to restore Ferrari’s fortune after two dormant decades, and Todt, 74, considers 51-year-old Schumacher a second son. They sometimes watch races together at Schumacher’s house in a wooded corner of Gland, a city of 13,000 inhabitants between Geneva and Lausanne. And Todt maintains close contact with Corinna, Schumacher’s devoted 25-year-old woman.
It is she who has insisted on near-total secrecy, barring the strange official comment, which reflects her husband’s essentially reserved and proud nature.
The Frenchman opened up about the current state of Schumacher and expressed his ‘love’
Reports last month suggested Schumacher was about to undergo stem cell surgery, although a source close to the family – not Todt – indicated on Sunday that this was an unlikely treatment, at least for the time being, given the limitations caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
Schumacher’s name pops up more than once in my broad conversation with Todt in his office at the top of the Hungaroring paddock. However, medical bulletins are strictly prohibited.
I ask him if he thinks Schumacher is the best driver ever, and how he feels as Hamilton approaches his friend’s top two records, with 91 wins and seven world titles. The Briton, 35, is at 85 and six respectively.
“I love Michael,” said Todt, “but there’s no telling who’s the best. There are Juan Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Ayrton Senna and Michael. You can only think in terms of who is the best in a given generation.
Todt explained that ‘it is impossible to say who is the best ever’ in F1 as the German has 91 wins
“I know it can happen that Lewis surpasses Michael’s record as the most self-titled driver in history. All ingredients are present at Mercedes to do that. I honestly don’t mind.
“I remember being on the podium in Suzuka with Michael in 2000 after winning his first title with Ferrari and I said that our lives would never be the same again. We had achieved everything we wanted. After an accident like Michael’s, does it matter if Lewis won more?
“It is a matter of relationships. We are all lucky in Formula 1 when you see what is happening in the world, and not just with the monster that is Covid-19. ‘
Todt, a UN special envoy for road safety who still works long nights that would exhaust many a younger man, calls it a miracle that the season started despite the virus – a tribute, he said, to the hard work of all of Formula 1 -family . Today’s Grand Prix is the third round of the three-week packed opening of a new championship to which ten races have been confirmed so far. The goal is between 15 and 18 rounds.
An important topic of the early season was Hamilton’s campaign for racial equality in light of the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Todt revealed that the world champion had written to ask him and the FIA for support. He responded supportively.
Todt revealed that he told Michael that their “life would never be the same” after his first title
Todt, the son of a Polish Jewish doctor, has committed nearly £ 1 million from the FIA to fight discrimination. He said, “As a child, I was told not to say anything about my father’s origins. But when I was 17 or 18, I decided I would never deny it.
My wife (actress Michelle Yeoh) is yellow. She is Chinese. She sometimes has problems because of that.
Lewis attaches great importance to racism. It is a good thing for him. ‘
However, not all of his fellow drivers have ‘taken a knee’ on the pre-race grid, including Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, although they all wore ‘End Racism’ t-shirts.
Todt understands reservations about forced gestures and adds, “All individuals must express what they believe in the way they choose. People are different. Some are loud, others are softly talking.
“But we are all striving for the end of racism.
“I say life is important. Lives are important. Not just black lives. Or yellow lives. Or white lives. All lives. ‘