GRENOBLE, France (AP) — Scores of Michael Schumacher's fans converged Friday on a hospital in the French Alps to honor the Formula One great on his 45th birthday, just days after he was critically injured in a skiing accident.
Schumacher has been in a medically induced coma since Sunday, when he struck his head on a rock while on a family vacation.
About 100 fans came by bus from Italy or by car from northern France and other places, saying they felt compelled to honor a man who had given them so many reasons to celebrate in the past.
"With all the joy he has given us, it was important for us to return the favor and be here for Michael," said Gulio Carissomi, who drove four hours from Italy to reach Grenoble.
One group of fans quietly assembled in view of the Grenoble hospital's windows, unfurling a large banner for Ferrari, the racing team that Schumacher had anchored.
The seven-time F1 champion has undergone two brain operations since the accident. Doctors are keeping him sedated and his body at an artificially low temperature to help with the healing. The physicians have refused to give a prognosis for Schumacher, saying they are focused on his immediate care.
Schumacher, known affectionately as Schumi by fans, is the most successful F1 driver in history, racking up a record 91 race wins. He retired in 2012.
Ferrari on Friday sent special birthday greetings to Schumacher, recalling the 72 victories he won from 1996-2006.
"Today is Michel Schumacher's birthday. In these hours he's on the most important race of his life and we want to dedicate a special honor to him," the statement said. "Forza (Come on) Michael!"
In a statement, Schumacher's family thanked fans for their support.
"We all know he is a fighter and will not give up," they posted on Schumacher's website.
Associated Press writers Nicole Winfield in Rome and Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.