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.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”