We’ve become accustomed to news of the fashion industry’s response to the coronavirus crisis with factories being repurposed to make masks and other PPE so desperately short of supply. Now Formula One world champions Mercedes, one of seven teams working to redress the global ventilator shortages, have unveiled a breathing aid to keep coronavirus patients out of intensive care.
Mercedes, working closely with clinicians at University College London Hospital (UCLH), have fashioned a solution faster than anyone imagined possible. In just a week, they have built dozens of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices, which deliver oxygen to the lungs without requiring a ventilator.
Such equipment has successfully treated COVID-19 patients in China and Italy but is in short supply in the UK. Forty devices have been delivered to UCLH and three other London hospitals. If trials prove successful, Mercedes estimate that they can soon start producing 1,000 per day.
Engineers who would once have devoted all their energies to tweaking Lewis Hamilton’s steering wheel found themselves reassigned, almost overnight, to making a crucial contribution to this critical healthcare effort.
Reverse-engineering is the area of expertise most specifically tailored to F1. In recent days, Mercedes’ finest minds have worked on dismantling an existing off-patent CPAP device, copying and improving the design, then adapting it for mass production. The effect of their intervention could be profound, with reports from Lombardy, the region of Italy most ravaged by COVID-19, indicating that half the patients given CPAP have avoided any need for invasive mechanical ventilation.
So acute are the time pressures that there are still vast challenges for F1 to overcome, not least in sourcing materials. But with Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Renault, Racing Point, Haas and Williams all committing to the project, clearly the sport is equal to the challenge.
Read more: How fashion is helping fight COVID-19