Michael Schumacher has revealed he thought he was dying in the immediate aftermath of his terrifying crash on the opening lap of the 1999 British Grand Prix, that left him with a broken leg.
Schumacher crashed heavily on the opening lap of the race at Silverstone, after a hydraulic failure in his Ferrari left him with no rear brakes at the end of the Hanger Straight, the fastest part of the circuit.
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With limited braking, the front wheels locked up and Schumacher had no control as he left the track, skating across the gravel trap into the tyre wall at 105 km/h.
With no tethers on the tyre barrier, the Ferrari ploughed straight through and into the concrete barrier, ripping the front off the car.
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The seven-time world champion attempted to climb out of his shattered car, but it was immediately obvious something was wrong, as he slumped in the cockpit.
Speaking on the Netflix documentary Schumacher, to be released later today, the German detailed what happened in the immediate aftermath of the accident.
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“The front wheel had smashed the cockpit, and it was still stuck somewhere in there,” he said.
“I couldn’t get out, and I was trying to pull my leg out, which was trapped. I’m lying there and notice that I’m calming down a bit.
“Suddenly I feel my heartbeat fading, becoming slower and slower, until suddenly it stops completely.
“I think, ‘This is probably how it feels when you’re on your way upstairs’.”
Schumacher had sustained a double fracture to his lower right leg, which required a 90 minute operation to insert a pin into the break.
Ironically, at the time Schumacher crashed, the race had already been stopped to deal with the cars of Jacques Villeneuve and Alex Zanardi, both of which had stalled on the starting grid.
“The braking on the rear wheels was zero,” said Ferrari spokesman Claudio Berro in the hours after the crash.
Schumacher’s wife, Corinna, told the Netflix documentary that the German had been lucky throughout his career.
“That was a moment when I thought, ‘Oh my God’ – but on the whole, we’d always made it through his races safely which is why I was certain he had a few guardian angels that were keeping an eye out for him,” she said.
Schumacher was just eight points behind McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen in the championship race at the time of his accident, which sidelined him from mid-July until the penultimate race of the season in mid-October, allowing Hakkinen to clinch his second world title.
The documentary also explores Schumacher’s reaction to Ayrton Senna’s fatal crash at Imola in 1994.
Schumacher, who had emerged that season as Senna’s biggest rival, was immediately behind the Brazilian when he crashed.
After winning the race, he detailed how then-Benetton boss Flavio Briatore broke the news.
“We went up to the podium, he told us he is in a coma, but coma can be many things,” Schumacher said.
“It can be something which is going to be OK the next day.
“The worst was two weeks later (at the Monaco Grand Prix) once I really had to accept that he is dead.
“It was just something crazy,” he added softly.
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