Formula One may have brought forward its summer factory shutdown to March and April, but seven UK-based teams are set to mobilise their workforce to produce life-saving ventilators that will be required by the NHS in the fight against coronavirus.
McLaren, Williams, Red Bull, Renault, Racing Point and world champion Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes team are all based in England, while American outfit Haas has its European headquarters in the country.
All teams have applied-technologies divisions that are capable of manufacturing such complex products at short notice.
Although current discussions are assessing how feasible such a move would be, City A.M. understands that the teams are confident of being able to help and production could begin as soon as this week.
The NHS currently has just over 8,000 ventilators but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said at least a further 20,000 would be needed, while the Department for Health has called on suppliers to build “as many as they can”.
It comes amid concern that demand may overwhelm supply as the number of coronavirus cases in the UK continues to rise. As of yesterday, there were more than 5,000 confirmed cases and 233 deaths.
One of the symptoms of Covid-19 is shortness of breath and those requiring hospitalisation due to suffering from a severe form of the disease will likely need a constant oxygen supply.
With the F1 season currently on hold – the first seven races up until June have been cancelled or postponed – the motor racing outfits are among the companies in discussion with the government about producing vital medical equipment.
However, the manufacturers are particularly well placed to help because the pioneering technology used in the sport means their factories are capable of rapid prototyping and high-value manufacturing.
The teams are working with University College London and their respective hospitals as well research funding group Innovate UK and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult team.
An F1 spokesman said a “tangible outcome” from discussions with the government and other parties would occur any day. An announcement on behalf of the teams is expected to be communicated centrally through F1.
Former Williams and Renault chief engineer Pat Symonds, now chief technical officer of F1’s motorsport division, is leading the discussions with teams, medical suppliers and government in order to facilitate the initiative.
It is understood that the teams will reverse engineer the existing ventilators rather than trying to develop a new design due to the urgency required.
With no return to racing scheduled before June, the teams’ factories were set to be shut down for three weeks from 27 March.
A decision was made to bring forward the enforced summer break and extend it by a week in order to make more room in the calendar later on in the year for rearranged races. Like many things at present, this is flexible and subject to change.
However, it leaves the teams with the resources and time to help provide vital equipment.
In Italy – the country outside of China hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic – the Agnelli family, who control Ferrari and Fiat as well football club Juventus, have donated £9.1m to the Italian government, as well as purchasing 150 ventilators and providing a fleet of cars to distribute food and medicine.
It is now likely that Mercedes and the other six teams based in England will also be able to make a significant contribution to the battle against coronavirus.