Formula One in Medicine

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Jason Comeau

UPDATE: For more information on Formula One innovation helping fight COVID-19

The sport of soccer is typically described as the world’s most international sport. However, the most watched sport in the world is not soccer, but rather Formula One. Each racing week, almost half a billion people across the globe tune in to watch a Formula One Grand Prix. Throughout the year, over 1.9 billion people in the world watched at least one race. Many people in the United States do not have much knowledge about Formula One, mostly due to the sport taking place all over the world each season, with only one race in the United States each year. However, the sport is gaining popularity in America, and has increasing popularity in the global stage with the drivers becoming younger and more marketable to fans on social media. For those who do not know, Formula One is the most premier single-seater auto racing class in the world. Each week during the season, an entire team travels with their car, equipment, and technology from one country to another, constantly making adjustments to their car in order to get the fastest times. Teams like Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren, Alfa Romeo, and Renault are always developing new technology in order to make their cars faster, more efficient, and the fastest cars in the world. Most notably, the biggest race of the year is the Monaco Grand Prix in which the wealthiest people and celebrities from around the world descend on Monte Carlo, Monaco in order to watch these formula one cars race through the street.

The biggest aspect that drives Formula One is innovation. Typically, these innovations are done in order to make more powerful and efficient cars. In addition, many of the innovations created are those that allow for better data collection such as the speed, downforce, and temperature of the car. However, many of these innovations have gone on to become very useful in the real-world. One of the most notable inventions is the creation of the hybrid-engine, an engine that uses a mix of electricity and gasoline to power it. Many people often think of hybrid cars such as the Prius, yet the Formula One supercars were the first place in which the hybrid engines were developed and perfected before becoming available to the public.

Even with all the innovation specifically to cars, something that is truly eye opening is the application of Formula One technology to medicine. At first look, the technology designed to develop a better supercar wouldn’t translate to healthcare, however these technology developments have saved countless lives and improved care throughout the world. One such instance is with McLaren’s Formula One team. The McLaren motorsport team developed an extensive data system which is able to monitor all the different functions of the car as mentioned earlier. The data system is able to monitor many different variables, but for simplicity here it measures engine temperature, speed, and tire efficiency. Parallels have been drawn numerous times between Formula One drivers and their engineers with doctors and their patients. In both cases data is key, and the McLaren data system is now being used in hospitals to continuously monitor patients in intensive care wards. Not only is this helping doctors care better for their patients, but researchers are able to find trends while conducting vital research on disease and pathology.

During each race, Ferrari F1 drivers wear special sensors in their wrists and elbows in order to analyze how each driver is moving the steering wheel at different turns and locations on the track. These sensors allow teams to analyze if drivers are starting turns too early or are delayed in their reactions. In medicine, Ferrari has given these sensors to orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons to wear on their elbows and wrists while operating. The sensors allow for ultra-specific feedback which can in turn improve surgical approaches along the control of instruments.

If anyone has ever seen a formula one pitstop, they truly have seen poetry in motion. The average formula pit stop is 2.4 seconds, with some teams averaging around 1.82 seconds. The fact a team is able to stop a car, take a set of tires off, put on new tires, and fasten the tires in less than 2.4 seconds is maximal efficiency. What is interesting is that the fastest pit stops in motorsport have also saved lives. Hospitals throughout Europe have taken cues and insight from the pitstop teams of Ferrari and Aston Martin, which have heavily influenced communication between surgeons, nurses, and anesthetists in operating theatres. These insights have also been applied to the delivery and transport of patients from an ambulance to an emergency ward, which have reduced care times throughout hospitals in Europe.

Formula One Motorsport is always on the frontline of innovation, and has saved many lives in the healthcare field today, we can only look forward to the advancements that may come in the future.


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