Formula Medicine: all change in F1
“The season seemed to get off to the usual start, but then, after Australia, everything changed and took this new and anomalous direction. We went through an initial phase of instability in which everything was very uncertain, but we overcame this challenge, creating a real turning point for the future.” This is how Dr. Riccardo Ceccarelli expresses his feelings about this most unusual 2020 season.
The Formula 1 World Championship is now almost finished and it’s time for Formula Medicine to sum up its 32nd season in the top category. A season profoundly affected by the pandemic emergency. “At the beginning, we couldn’t see any solutions. In addition to our concerns about the virus itself, we were worried that so many years of experience in this field would be wiped out in a single moment”, continues Ceccarelli. “A week before the first race at Red Bull Ring we were told that every team for which we provide medical assistance would have to have its own medical doctor – each team would have its own “bubble”. At that point we had to organize a massive deployment of resources. We contacted doctors all over the world, because from the eight to twelve professionals with whom we normally manage the situation throughout the year, we had to increase to a staff of about thirty. A difficult and meticulous job, which was managed inside our company mainly by Dr. Matteo Bartalucci, who dedicated himself to the search for valid colleagues.”
As a result, 29 doctors of 5 different nationalities were involved: 19 Italians, 7 British, 1 Austrian, 1 Portuguese and 1 Tajikistani. Each of them was equipped in less than a week with a complete set of medical kit and pharmaceutical supplies. A remarkable effort, greatly appreciated by the eight teams that Formula Medicine assists (Alfa Romeo, Alpha Tauri, Haas, McLaren, Racing Point, Red Bull Racing, Renault and Williams), in addition to the staff of Pirelli and F1.
Each team operates as a bubble, and within each team microbubbles are created. Lunch tables at the catering facility are divided into small workgroups (e.g. three or four mechanics who work together on one car). Each team has adhered scrupulously to the FIA protocols, sometimes taking even more stringent precautions than those that have been recommended. “If there is a positive diagnosis, the close contacts must be as limited as possible”, explains Ceccarelli. “This is the reason why each team is organized in many microbubbles. For example, I’m working with the McLaren team, and at lunch and dinner in their catering facilities I always have a table just for me.”
Masks are the rule, but so are molecular swab tests, which everyone has to do before each trip and then every four days inside the circuit. “Some teams are continuously swab testing within their companies, not just the employees but also their families, allocating budgets that can reach more than € 100,000 considering the average cost of about € 80 per swab test”, continues Ceccarelli. “It’s in their reciprocal interest, because in the event of a positive case you also risk having your own workforce stuck overseas and this entails additional costs, not to mention all the related personal difficulties.”
In this regard, Formula Medicine has worked hard in setting up a real task force, also making use of a network of local contacts in the countries that hosted the Grand Prix this year, to facilitate the repatriation of any positive cases and assist them from both the medical and legal points of view. “Before each race we send an information pack to the teams, explaining how we are organized for that specific trip. We managed to get everyone back from Portimão. We helped a team to repatriate some positive employees from Imola to the UK. We did the same with a team manager who also tested positive and was able to leave Istanbul without delay on a fully equipped medical plane. Regarding the statistics, despite there being over ten thousand people working in the paddock and elsewhere every Gran Prix weekend, we have had a hundred cases in total. Everyone has been very cautious in dealing with the problem, and from midseason onwards, with the arrival of the second wave, the majority have done nothing but go back and forth between the circuit and the hotel, using room service when catering was not available. There’s nobody in the hotel bar. This behaviour is a mix of rules and personal responsibility – nobody wants to be stranded so far away from home.”
We asked Dr. Ceccarelli what Formula 1 meant without, or with very few, public spectators. “The race with the most spectators was the Russian GP, but I wasn’t present. I did work at Portimão however, which had a lot of spectators, while at Mugello there were very few people admitted into the stands. From the personal point of view of the workers, from the mechanics to the doctors, things are better this way. Working hours at the track are already long, and if you don’t have to wait in traffic to get to and from the circuit then you can do everything in a more relaxed way. However, from a different point of view, an empty grandstand is not fun. There’s no noise, no people, no banners, all the things that give you that extra adrenaline. Let’s say that this year was a bit like living inside a cloud.”
But now it’s time to look ahead to the future – a future which will hopefully bring some good news in 2021. “We are already in December. It’s hard to imagine that in a couple of months there will be drastic changes. We must be cautious, also for the fear of sliding backwards”, concludes Ceccarelli. “The hopes and dreams are that the situation will continue constantly improving, but realistically, I think that for an initial period, things will remain exactly as they are now.”
All the medical staff of Formula Medicine present at the 2020 Grand Prix
Riccardo Ceccarelli (Italy), Luca Alberti (Italy), Gerardo Anastasio (Italy), Carlo Atzeri (Italy), Valentina Barletta (Italy), Matteo Bartalucci (Italy), Beniamino Bortoli (Italy), Adam Bradley (Great Britain), Michele Celiento (Italy), Rahul Chotai (Great Britain), Andrea Collini (Italy), Marco Cupisti (Italy), Maria Cristina Deidda (Italy), Vittorio Di Giacomo (Italy), Marco Favilli (Italy), Andrè Fernandes (Portugal), Elisa Fustini (Italy), Franco Guerriero (Italy), Philipp Hoffberger (Austria), Ramesh Konala (Great Britain), Ravshan Makhmudov (Tajikistan), Alexander Mcfarquhar (Great Britain), Andrea Nicolini (Italy), Lorenzo Raffo (Italy), Giacomo Ravenni (Italy), Darren Smith (Great Britain), Paolo Luca Vaglio (Italy), Richie Whitehouse (Great Britain), Melanie Joyce Wood (Great Britain).