What on earth are the F1 teams up to?

| Photographer Credit: James Tye / UCL

Big props to the British-based F1 teams, they have been doing something outside their regular self-absorbed single-minded obsession with going faster everywhere.

Sure, Indy and Aussie V8 teams are doing similar things, but it’s the agility of the response by F1 teams to a call for ventilators that is causing murmurs of admiration in the medical fraternity.

Mercedes, McLaren, Red Bull, Racing Point, Haas, Renault and Williams are working together on ‘Project Pitlane’, using their collective engineering expertise to provide much-needed medical apparatus. So far, 10,000 ventilators and respirators have been supplied.

President Trump is always on about the USA having ‘beautiful numbers, the best numbers’ – well sorry old chap, but you don’t own ‘100’. That is the number of hours it took Mercedes F1 to design, prototype and test their ventilator device ready for production. Not week, not days, but hours. They worked alongside medical experts so the device would hit the round ready to use.

Mercedes F1 could make a lot of money out of the sales of the device, simply because it works and has their name on it. Instead, they have thrown the design rights to the wind and made the device plans ‘open source’, enabling any country or organisation to pick them up and use them.

Maintaining NZ’s tenuous relationship with premier motor racing, McLaren has also developed a respirator and full head mask for medical staff.

A volunteer ‘patient’ with the newly developed CPAP device.

A ventilator, by the way, is one step down from the full-Monty intubated breathing system needed by chronic cases. They are essentially a pump that creates positive air pressure that is passed down tubing to a mouth and nose mask. That tech isn’t new, it’s central to the CPAP units used by people who have sleep apnoea. The difference in the new ventilator versions is in their ability to include a finely metered supply of oxygen to the air going to the mask.

Just as the production-ready versions were ready to go, British and American health authorities began to harrumph about how they couldn’t possibly allow the devices to be used without exhaustive testing and said they expected approval could take up to a year – and it seems they have been quietly sidelined and told to ‘put a sock in it’. The need for these units is now, not this time next year. A small insight into how difficult innovation can be in the health sector, and a stark contrast with how fast the F1 teams – accustomed to one week turnaround for new parts within the sport – can respond.

Racing, it turns out, really does improve the breed.

Mark Baker

Mark Baker has been working in automotive PR and communications for more than two decades. For much longer than that he has been a motorsport journalist, photographer and competitor, witness to most of the most exciting and significant motorsport trends and events of the mid-late 20th Century. His earliest memories of motorsport were trips to races at Ohakea in the early 1960s, and later of annual summer pilgrimages to watch Shellsport racers and Mini 7s at Bay Park and winter sorties into forests around Kawerau and Rotorua to see the likes of Russell Brookes, Ari Vatanen and Mike Marshall ply their trade in group 4 Escorts. Together with Murray Taylor and TV producer/director Dave Hedge he has been responsible for helping to build New Zealand’s unique Toyota Racing Series into a globally recognized event brand under category managers Barrie and Louise Thomlinson. Now working for a variety of automotive and mainstream commercial clients, Mark has a unique perspective on recent motor racing history and the future career paths of our best and brightest young racers.

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