ABU DHABI // The success of Abu Dhabi's first Grand Prix may not depend on who wins the race, whether the 60,000 fans leave happy or whether the Formula One championship leader Jenson Button clinches the world crown on November 1. Instead, it may lie in whether the 83 members of staff at the Yas Marina Circuit's medical centre are called on during the race weekend.
If they are not, it will mean the Grand Prix will have passed without an accident, and that every one of the 20 F1 drivers and those competing in the three support races will leave Abu Dhabi unscathed and in good health. The risks during race weekend will be enormous. Formula One is the world's fastest motorsport, and the difference between survival and death can be a matter of seconds. Forty-seven doctors, seven paramedics, nine nurses and 18 drivers, as well as support staff, will be on hand to ensure that any driver injured during the race weekend will receive the highest standard of care within 30 seconds of an accident.
Most of the medical team have been recruited from other circuits worldwide. Some are from hospitals in the UAE. The team will be headed by Dr Sean Petherbridge, the chief medical officer of the Automobile and Touring Club UAE (ATCUAE), who said: "We could be asked to do nothing, and that would be the best-case scenario." With three days of practice, qualifying and racing in four different categories across the weekend, Dr Petherbridge said the team should prepare for the possibility of one major incident.
This compares with an average of 10 emergency situations during the UAE Desert Challenge, an annual cross-desert rally organised by the ATCUAE. Should a crash occur, a medical car belonging to the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the sport's governing body, will be first on the scene. The scale of the response will be decided by an FIA team assessing the scene from a control room that contains 50 separate television screens.
A second emergency vehicle would then be dispatched, at which point a helicopter's engine would be started in case the casualty has to go to hospital. An ambulance would follow immediately afterwards if necessary. Teams will be on standby at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City and Mafraq Hospital should a driver require urgent medical assistance. One section of the track, a 1.1km straight approaching the west grandstand, will see the F1 cars reaching up to 307kph before slowing to enter a tight bend.
The risks of a collision at that speed, and of suffering injuries by being brought to a halt from such a high speed, are considerable. On the sidelines of the Trauma and Accident and Emergency Conference in the capital yesterday, Dr Ruben Peralta, who will be chief surgeon at the medical centre, said: "Head injuries and spinal injuries are the real danger. "But you have to look out for deceleration injuries, they can be quite bad.
"They can cause problems in the bowels, for the bones but also the arteries, by the arteries becoming detached because you have slowed down so quickly. That is one of the main concerns." While better car design and stringent security procedures have made F1 safer, the sport is not immune from danger. The Ferrari driver Felipe Massa suffered a fractured skull at the Hungarian Grand Prix in July after a spring broke off from the car in front and struck him on the head.
Toyota's Timo Glock may miss the Abu Dhabi race having suffered a cracked vertebrae in a crash during the Japanese Grand Prix two weeks ago. Dr Petherbridge told the conference: "Even though it is safer now, the speed is still an issue. With the great speed involved in circuit racing, it is typically all or nothing. email@example.com