If British industry succeeds in saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, it would in part be thanks to the pioneering role played by Formula One (F1) racing teams in the country.
Seven of F1’s 10 teams have joined forces with leading aerospace and engineering firms to ramp up production of ventilators, while Mercedes has also worked with medics and academics to produce an alternative breathing aid.
Normally obsessed with improving the performance of cars that race at more than 320kph, the teams are stripping back lifesaving devices and using computer simulation to test whether more simplified models can be mass produced.
The seven have bases in the “Motorsport Valley” area around Silverstone, a one-time World War II airfield that switched, along with its neighboring engineers, into racing to host the first world championship grand prix in 1950.
“F1 teams are used to operating at pace. They move quickly, within a safety remit, and have the capacity and the capability to work on both the R&D [research and development] and the assembly,” one person familiar with the setup said.
In one of the most eye-catching developments, engine maker Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains has worked with a team of mechanical engineers at University College London and clinicians at University College London Hospital to build a machine that pushes an air-oxygen mix into the mouth and nose.
The device, a continuous positive airway pressure, has been used in hospitals in Italy and China, and can help patients avoid more invasive ventilation.
Having produced the first device less than 100 hours after the first meeting, the team has secured regulatory approval and is to work with other teams and the manufacturer to increase production.
“By working flat out ... we have accomplished something in five days that would normally take two years,” Andy Obeid, chief executive of the oxygen monitor firm Oxford Optronix said.
“It’s great to see Mercedes and other F1 teams answering the call... Great job, guys,” Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton said on Twitter.
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