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Mercedes F1 team helps to develop breathing aid for COVID-19 patients

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LONDON — Formula One team Mercedes has helped to develop a breathing aid that could keep novel coronavirus (COVID-19) patients out of intensive care and ease some pressure on Britain’s strained health service.

As part of a combined effort involving seven Britain-based teams, Mercedes worked with engineers at the University College London and clinicians at University College London Hospital to adapt and improve a device that bridges the gap between an oxygen mask and the need for full ventilation.

The device, known as continuous positive airway pressure, has been used extensively in hospitals in Italy and China to deliver oxygen to the lungs of coronavirus patients during the pandemic.

UCL said the adapted devices have been recommended for use in Britain and that 100 of them are being sent to its hospital for clinical trials. There is the potential for a quick rollout by Mercedes to hospitals across the country.

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Tim Baker, a professor from UCL’s department of mechanical engineering, said clinicians called on the “capability of Formula One” to reduce a process “that could take years down to a matter of days,” with the adapted device taking less than 100 hours to develop from an initial meeting.

“We have been proud to put our resources at the service of UCL,” said Andy Cowell, managing director of Mercedes, “to deliver the CPAP project to the highest standards and in the fastest possible timeframe.”

The technology arms of six other teams – Red Bull, Haas, McLaren, Renault, Williams and Racing Point – contributed to developing the CPAP devices, as part of what F1 has labeled “Project Pitlane.”

The teams say they will continue to pool their resources and “support in other areas requiring rapid, innovative technology responses to the unique challenges posed” by the pandemic.

The CPAP machines work by pushing a mix of oxygen and air into the mouth and nose at a continuous rate, helping to increase the amount of oxygen entering the lungs. They are used routinely by Britain’s National Health Service but are in short supply currently.

There have been almost 20,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Britain, with more than 1,200 deaths.

For most people, the new virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The F1 season has yet to start. The first eight races of the season have been canceled or postponed, leaving the Canadian Grand Prix in June as the first event still on the schedule. That could be followed by a packed string of scheduled and rearranged races.

Mercedes is the leading team in F1, with defending champion Lewis Hamilton as its top driver.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).