In no area has the sport of Formula One racing changed as much over the years as that of medical provision. As late as the early 1980s, medical facilities at many Grand Prix events were shockingly poor by modern standards. Now it is 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. Because of this all Formula One races have several tiers of medical staff, which can be rapidly 'escalated' as appropriate.
Based around the circuit, mobile response teams include four salvage cars (S-cars) and two rescue cars (R-cars) as well as two extrication teams. The S-cars are equipped with a rescue cutter and fire extinguishing agents and, if necessary in an emergency, are able to tow a damaged car. They are manned by two experienced helpers. The R-cars are manned by an emergency doctor, four paramedics and a driver. They can reach any point on the track within 30 seconds.
At all races, the FIA's chief medical delegate, Doctor Gary Hartstein, will be on stand-by at all times in the medical chase car at the end of the pit lane. In this he can be quickly driven to the scene of any major injury. When he arrives at the stricken race car, a warning light system located on the top of cockpit provides an immediate indication of the severity of the accident.
The first port of call for most drivers involved in an accident will be the circuits medical centre, which is nothing short of a miniature hospital. It must be equipped with the latest medical devices, including full resuscitation equipment and its own operating theatre, and be manned at all hours by one of three shifts, each including an orthopaedic surgeon, an anaesthetist and six paramedics.
Local hospitals will also be on stand-by during the course of a race so that very serious injuries can be transferred to them if appropriate. 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.
Formula One racing is vastly safer than it used to be, and medical provision is infinitely better. But there is still no room for complacency, and it is a certainty that the scope and capacity of medical provision will continue to be at the forefront of the sport's evolution in years to come.
Did you know ...that in addition to the usual track marshals, medics and doctors, several divers are present at the Monaco Grand Prix in case a driver crashes into the harbour and needs rescuing?