Only close family and a handful of trusted friends are allowed through the high doors of Michael Schumacher’s house on the shores of Lake Geneva.
And the silence has surrounded the German’s condition since he hit his head while skiing in the French Alps six and a half years ago. Several rescue operations and 254 days in hospital followed.
One of the few welcome guests is Jean Todt, the former manager of Schumacher’s Ferrari team and now in his penultimate year as chairman of Formula 1’s governing body, the FIA.
FIA President Jean Todt (left) spoke about his friend Michael Schumacher (right)
Todt was Ferrari’s team leader when Schumacher drove and won titles for the team
Speaking in Budapest, where Lewis Hamilton clinched pole position – the 90th of his career – for the Hungarian Grand Prix, the Frenchman chose his words with care, loyalty, and only when in a hurry. “I saw Michael last week,” he said. “He’s fighting. I hope the world can see it again. This is what he and his family are working towards. “
The two worked together in a symbiotic union to restore Ferrari’s fortunes after two dormant decades, and Todt, 74, sees Schumacher, 51, as a second son. They sometimes watch races together at Schumacher’s home in a wooded corner of Gland, a town of 13,000 inhabitants between Geneva and Lausanne. And Todt remains in close contact with Corinna, Schumacher’s devoted wife for 25 years.
It was she who insisted on almost total secrecy, unless there were strange official comments, reflecting the essentially reserved and proud nature of her husband.
The Frenchman opened up about Schumacher’s current state and expressed his “love”
Reports from last month suggested Schumacher was set to undergo stem cell surgery, although a source close to the family – not Todt – told the Mail on Sunday that it was an unlikely treatment, at least for now, given the restrictions caused by the coronavirus epidemic.
Schumacher’s name comes up more than once in my broad conversation with Todt in his office at the top of the Hungaroring paddock. However, medical reports are strictly prohibited.
I ask him if he considers Schumacher to be the greatest driver of all time and how he now feels that Hamilton is approaching his friend’s two all-time highs of 91 wins and seven world titles. The 35-year-old Briton has 85 and six respectively.
“I love Michael,” said Todt, “but it’s impossible to say who is the best of all time. There are Juan Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Ayrton Senna and Michael. You can only think in terms of who is the best of a certain generation.
Todt explained that ‘it is impossible to say who is the best ever’ in F1 as the German has 91 wins
“I know there are times when Lewis breaks Michael’s record as the most successful driver in history. All the ingredients are there with Mercedes to make it happen. Honestly, I don’t mind.
“I remember back in 2000 when I was on the podium at Suzuka with Michael after winning his first title with Ferrari and telling him our lives would never be the same again. We had achieved everything we wanted. After an accident like Michael’s, does it matter that Lewis won more?
“It’s a question of proportion. We are all lucky in Formula 1 when you see what’s going on in the world, and not just with the monster that is Covid-19.
Todt, a United Nations special envoy for road safety who still works long nights and who would exhaust many young men, calls it a miracle that the season started despite the virus – a tribute, he said, to work hard work of the whole Formula One family. Today’s Grand Prix is the third round of a busy three opening weeks in a reinvigorated championship that has 10 races confirmed to date. The objective is between 15 and 18 rounds.
A major topic at the start of the 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 wrote to him asking for his support and that of the FIA. He responded with support.
Todt revealed that he told Michael “their lives will never be the same” after his first title
Todt, the son of a Polish Jewish doctor, has hired nearly £ 1million 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 a teenager, 17 or 18, I decided never to deny it.
“My wife (actress Michelle Yeoh) is yellow. She is Chinese. She sometimes has problems as a result.
“Lewis is deeply attached to racism. It is a cause dear to him.
However, not all of his fellow drivers had “taken a knee” on the pre-race grid, including Max Verstappen of Red Bull and Charles Leclerc of Ferrari, although all of them wore “End Racism” t-shirts. .
Todt understands the reservations about forced gestures, adding, “All individuals must express what they believe in the way they choose. People are different. Some are noisy, others put their cases quietly.
“But we are all aiming for an end to racism.
“I say: life matters. Lives matter. Not just black lives. Or yellow lives. Or white lives. All lives.