x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

F1 medical team ready for worst – and dehydration

From major crashes to minor burns, the Yas Island F1 medical team has to be ready for anything, and Dr Sean Petherbridge's group is focused on giving fast, effective care in the pits and paddock.

Dr Sean Petherbridge outside the medical centre at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi.
Dr Sean Petherbridge outside the medical centre at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // If anything goes wrong on the track this weekend, Dr Sean Petherbridge has a plan.

The doctor, who has run a family medical practice in Dubai since arriving in the UAE from the United Kingdom eight years ago, serves as the race's chief medical officer.

He will spend most of today and tomorrow in the control room, watching a bank of 32 screens.

If a driver does crash, and fails to get out of his car, the decision about a medical response rests with the clerk of the course, on the advice of Dr Petherbridge and the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) officials.

First on the scene will be the silver Mercedes F1 medical car, carrying an experienced trauma surgeon, and Gary Hartstein, the FIA's medical rescue co-ordinator.

Next will be a medical intervention vehicle, one of five Nissan Pathfinders stationed around the track, with a doctor and paramedic inside. They will assist the first team of doctors.

If need be, one of the three six-man extraction teams, each of which includes a doctor, will then be dispatched to lift the driver from the car.

The fourth vehicle on the scene will be one of the track's 10 ambulances, which will take the driver to the medical centre. There he will be stabilised before the team assesses whether he needs to got to a hospital. If he does, two fully equipped helicopter ambulances will be standing by.

In total, there will be 63 people under Dr Petherbridge's command. They include 22 doctors and 11 paramedics and nurses.

There is even a doctor in the pit lane, in addition to the teams' own doctors. The medical centre will have 12 staff, including two trauma surgeons, two anaesthesiologists and a burns specialist.

Last year, four drivers needed medical attention after they crashed on the new track over the course of the weekend. A further three were examined after a crash as a matter of protocol.

Even if all the drivers stay safe, the medical centre knows it will be busy, based on its experiences from last year's event.

On race day there will be about 3,000 people inside the pits and paddock areas, and many will need some kind of medical attention.

Dr Petherbridge says: "Ninety-five per cent of what we see is walk-in wounded with cuts, scrapes, burns, dehydration. It's a normal casualty unit. As you would expect, we are geared up for trauma."

One of the biggest concerns is the marshals. While the drivers have helmets and most spectators spend their day under the shade of the grandstands, the staff around the track have little respite from the sun.

"They are very experienced when it comes to living and working in this climate, but standing in this sun all day is another thing," Dr Petherbridge says.

To try to prevent problems, members of Dr Petherbridge's team will drive around during the day delivering water and rehydration salts to thirsty marshals.

Fortunately, the doctor's skills were not put to the test by any major incidents at last year's race. He has had more challenges, though, with the UAE Desert Challenge, for which he has been the medical supervisor for five years.

"There are 12 times more accidents in desert racing than circuit. It is much further away. We have much fewer resources," Dr Petherbridge says.

In F1, the response times are much shorter and there are many more medical staff.

"Because of the infrequency of accidents, it's hard to keep skills up sometimes unless they do it every day. My guys are quite good because they do a lot of trauma in general, so when it does happen they are very switched on," Dr Petherbridge says.

"You have to be focused. Of course, there is pressure and a big audience, but this is what we do."