Saturday 30 August 2014

Safety in Formula 1: Medical (Part Eight)

Safety has not always been a paramount concern in Formula One, although there had been many tragedies, both for drivers and spectators. This article will focus on the ‘Medical’ facilities at Formula One Grand Prix. In the last few decades, however, accidents happen and there are medical facilities at every circuit in order to try and control any situation which may occur as a result of an accident. 

The Medical Car lines up before the start of the Grand Prix.
According to, “As late as the early 1980s, medical facilities at many Grand Prix events were shockingly poor by modern standards. It has now become one of the top priorities at every race. The serious nature of some motor racing injuries means that speed of medical response is absolutely vital to saving lives.”  

Around the circuit, there are several mobile response teams strategically placed which include four salvage cars (S-cars) and two rescue cars (R-cars) as well as two extrication teams. The four S-cars are equipped with a rescue cutter and fire extinguishing equipment whereas the R-cars are manned by a doctor, four paramedics and a driver which can reach any point on the circuit within 30 seconds.

Did You Know...that the safety of the spectators at Formula One races is controlled by approximately 150 security officials, in addition to approximately 130 medics and doctors?

The FIA's chief medical delegate, currently Doctor Ian Roberts, will be on stand-by in the medical car at the end of the pit lane. He can be quickly driven to the scene of any major injury. When Dr Roberts arrives at the accident scene he can gauge the severity of the accident immediately by looking at the warning light system located on the top of cockpit. 

The Medical Car will follow the drivers around the circuit on the first lap, as it is considered as the most dangerous and crash-prone corners of the entire race and it will pull into the pitlane at the end of the first lap.

If a driver requires immediate assistance, he or she will be taken the circuit’s medical centre. It is staffed 24 hours a day during a race weekend and is equally equipped with the latest medical devices, including full resuscitation equipment and its own operating theatre, with orthopadedic surgeons, an anaesthetist and six paramedics. Drivers will often be sent to the medical centre for checks as a precaution regardless of whether they’ve emerged unscathed. It is up to the FIA to clear a driver to race and to ensure if he is physically fit to do so. Several drivers have had to sit out the rest of a Grand Prix weekend if they crash early on, and are even forced to sit out of the next race if they are deemed unfit due to a bad accident. 

Did You Know...that two ambulances and a helicopter manned by a doctor, two paramedics and a pilot stand by throughout the race. A second helicopter is kept ready outside the circuit and four additional ambulances are posted along the race track.

Felipe Massa being airlifted to hospital following an accident at the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix.
Local hospitals will also be on stand-by during the course of a race weekend so that very serious injuries can be transferred. A MedEvac helicopter manned by a doctor, two paramedics and a pilot is ready to fly at all times, a second helicopter is kept ready outside the circuit and four additional ambulances are posted around the race track. If conditions are such that a helicopter could not take off from the circuit or land at the hospital, due to fog for example, then the race cannot go ahead. Normally, this is a weather issue, fog or rain, and we saw this happen during Free Practice 1 at Circuit of the Americas in 2013. Cars were sent out at the start of the session but were told to return with ‘Red Flags’ due to the late arrival of the MedEvac helicopter.

Therefore, once can establish that Formula One racing is vastly safer than it used to be, and medical provision is a great deal better. That’s it for this article; I hope that you’ve enjoyed it!

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