Project Pitlane: When F1 rivals joined hands to save the world against rampant pandemic

When we think of Formula One, rivalry is the first thing that comes to our mind. In the 70 years of F1, we have seen dramatic car races, cutthroat rivalries and illustrious careers. Right before its 70th birthday, the world was interrupted with an unexpected event: the Covid-19 pandemic. Everything came to a standstill. It wreaked havoc and in many ways, it continues to do so.

In these trying times, the F1 teams kept aside their rivalries and took a pledge to save the world. On 17 March, 2020, right after the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix, the Formula One teams responded to the UK Government’s call to industry, in tackling the pandemic.

Collectively known as ‘Project Pitlane’, it comprised of seven teams- Haas, McLaren, Mercedes, Racing Point, Red Bull, Renault and Williams. The F1 teams pooled in their resources to focus on three specific work-streams.

These work-streams vary in scope from reverse engineering existing medical equipment, supporting the scaling of ventilator designs as part of the VentilatorChallengeUK consortium, to designing and producing a prototype of a new device for certification and subsequent production.

The seven teams worked tirelessly to produce medical equipments needed for treating the patients. The challenge was to create a new medical device, turning the simple CPAP device into something similar to the complex ventilators used in intensive care.

A device was engineered to form the basis of new ventilator design.

However, it passed only Technology Readiness Level 3 (proof of concept) and normally would take two years to attain TRL9. The teams of ‘Project Pitlane’ made it possible in a span of mere four weeks.

Mercedes’s Brixworth engine facility was repurposed to help produce Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) breathing aids. With government orders reaching as high as 10,000 units, 40 machines at the factory that normally produced F1 pistons and turbochargers were involved in making 1000 medical items per day.

At the peak of the pandemic, Ferrari donated €10 million to the authorities for dealing with the crisis. In addition to that, it sourced 150 ventilators and provided vehicles to the Italian Red Cross for transporting food and medicine to those in need.

Moreover, provisions were made to allow the construction of respiratory equipment whilst the engineers created their own ‘F15’ pulmonary ventilator. The design for ‘F15’ was made open-source which allowed institutions around the world to use its design for free to build their own ventilators.

The F1 community came together at the face of adversity and rose above their rivalries. The teams’ rigorous efforts in combating the pandemic will surely go down in the F1 history. Formula One has proved that it is not only about fast cars and never-ending rivalries. It is also about resilience, excellence and empathy towards the community.

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