With the Formula 1 season on hold, teams have taken up the cause of tackling the global crisis by helping to develop and produce badly-needed ventilators.the government issued a call to businesses to help produce ventilators for the National Health Service on March 16th. Two days later RaceFans revealed a group of British-based teams had already begun researching how they could help tackle the problem. Ferrari is doing the same in Italy.
The availability of ventilators is of utmost importance in saving the lives of patients in the pandemic. They are used to ensure patients suffering the serious lung problems associated with severe cases of the virus are able to continue breathing.
While the idea of racing teams turning their attention to medical apparatus might seem unusual, it is not new. Formula 1 teams, after all, don’t just race their cars, they build them, and from the front to the back of the grid their engineering standards are extremely high.
One team demonstrated this three years ago by assisting with the development of a specialised transportation system for newborns and infants. The Babypod 20 (pictured) was developed over a two-year period by Advanced Healthcare Technology and Williams Advanced Engineering.
Constructed from carbon fibre – a material pioneered for F1 car building almost 40 years ago – the transport device was designed to withstand a 20G impact while protecting its tiny occupant. Other motorsport-inspired refinements to the design included the addition of high-tensile webbing to further protect the patient. The Babypod 20 was subsequently introduced into the intensive care ambulances used at Great Ormond Street Hospital for children in London.
Williams is one of the teams now involved in efforts to aid with producing ventilators. So is McLaren, which confirmed last week it is “evaluating whether it is able to support the production of ventilators as part of the UK government’s request for help” and is “fully focused on the project”. They are joined by other companies outside F1 including Smiths Group, Meggitt, Airbus, GKN and Nissan.
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Ventilators are in high demand in countries which are experiencing the most severe consequences of the pandemic. In Britain, the government has set a target of increasing production of ventilators to 5,000 per week in order to supply the 30,000 it expects to need over the coming months.
There are many examples of other industries helping the current crisis in different ways. Drinks producers and cosmetics companies are making alcohol-based hand sanitiser, some of which is being given away free of charge.
But the engineering expertise F1 teams can offer has particularly value when our comes to building ventilators. While the technology behind the devices has been around for years, one essential requirement for a ventilator is reliability – they have to keep running.
This challenge is not about the extreme performance most obviously associated with Formula 1 cars, but how teams can adapt their facilities to a different kind of production while maintaining their high standards of engineering.
We have benchmarks for how successfully F1 teams can make complex systems reliable. Take the current generation of extremely complicated V6 hybrid turbo power units as an example. This year 10 teams covered 35,800 kilometres of pre-season testing with these sophisticated units in just six days – something it took them twice as long to do six years ago.
The old motor racing maxim ‘to finish first, you must first finish’ has now found an unexpected real-world application, and a vitally important one.
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