A collective of seven Formula 1 teams based in the United Kingdom and their respective technology divisions working towards the manufacture and delivery of respiratory devices required in the treatment of Covid-19 coronavirus patients. These teams are Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, BWT Racing Point F1 Team, Haas F1 Team, McLaren F1 Team, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team, Renault DP World F1 Team and ROKiT Williams Racing.

Dubbed Project Pitlane, the collective is focused in three workstreams; reverse-engineering existing medical devices, supporting in scaling production of existing ventilator designs, and the rapid design and prototype manufacture of a new device for certification and subsequent production. Formula 1 teams’ ability to respond quickly is now especially so, as the 2020 Formula 1 season is on hold due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

On the third stream, the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team has developed a breathing aid that has been approved for use by the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. Teams at University College London (UCL) engineering hub MechSpace and Mercedes-AMG F1 have reverse-engineered a device which can be produced by the thousands, which has now been recommended for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

This breathing aid, the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, took less than 100 hours from the first meeting to the production of the first device, according to Mercedes-AMG F1. A version of the device is already employed in hospitals in China and Italy where oxygen alone is insufficient for patients with serious lung infections.

Continuous positive airway pressure devices work by pushing an air-oxygen mixture into the mouth and nose at a steady rate, keeping airways open and increasing the amount of oxygen entering the lungs. By contrast, ventilators deliver breaths directly to the patient’s lungs, however this requires heavy sedation and connection to a tube placed into the patient’s windpipe.

According to UCL, reports from Italy indicate that around 50% of patients given CPAP have avoided the need for mechanical ventilation, however CPAP devices are in short supply in UK hospitals. “These devices will help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a limited resource, are used only for the most severely ill,” said UCLH critical care consultant Professor Mervyn Singer.

While the CPAP devices are first being tested at UCLH, it is hoped that they will make a real difference to hospitals across the UK by reducing demand on intensive care staff and for beds, as well as helping patients recover without the need for more invasive ventilation, Singer added.

“The Formula One community has shown an impressive response to the call for support, coming together in the ‘Project Pitlane’ collective to support the national need at this time across a number of different projects. We have been proud to put our resources at the service of UCL to deliver the CPAP project to the highest standards and in the fastest possible timeframe,” said managing director of Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains Andy Cowell.

“By working flat out and mobilising the support of every individual in my company as well as other small companies across the UK, we have accomplished something in five days that would normally take two years,” said Andy Obeid, CEO of Oxford Optronix, a firm that will manufacture oxygen monitors for CPAP devices.

In the United Kingdom, the state-run National Health Service currently has 8,000 ventilators, with a further 8,000 on order, however there is concern there will still be a shortage as the virus peaks, according to an AFP report. It is hoped that the CPAP devices will ease the demand by aiding with relatively moderate cases, and thus helping reserve ventilator use for the severely ill.

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