Coronavirus: F1 team McLaren develop protective equipment for frontline NHS staff

British Formula One constructor has developed a respiratory system alongside the University of Southampton that is already being trialled inside hospitals ‘within days’ of development getting underway

Jack de Menezes
Tuesday 31 March 2020 15:39 BST
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McLaren are following Mercedes’s lead by using their own technological expertise to produce equipment to help the fight against coronavirus, with the British manufacturer developing a personal respirator for frontline NHS staff.

On Monday it emerged that Formula One world champions Mercedes were using their High Performance Powertrains department to produce a breathing aid that can help keep patients with Covid-19 out of intensive care, which has already been approved by the medicines and healthcare products regulatory agency for use in hospitals.

In a similar move, the McLaren Group – the parent company of the McLaren Racing F1 team along with their Automotive and Applied technologies departments – have worked with partners at the University of Southampton and Kemp Sails to develop protective equipment “in a matter of days” that could help to ease one of the main crises facing the National Health Service.

Doctors and nurses have been left short on the supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), with fears that it could leave frontline staff fighting Covid-19 exposed to the virus.

With that in mind, the University of Southampton has begun testing on a prototype that, if successful, will be provided for personnel on wards across the country using basic off-the-shelf equipment. The system features “a fabric hood which covers the wearer’s head, integrated with a plastic visor to protect their face”, and “a small portable unit delivers clean air through a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter to the wearer from a battery powered fan pack mounted on a belt”.

McLaren has joined the other six UK-based F1 teams in component manufacturing for ventilators, based on existing technologies, given that the first eight races of the season have been suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak. All seven teams are part of the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium, which also includes Ford and Rolls Royce as well as Airbus, Siemens and Unilever. More specifically McLaren are deploying planning, project management and purchasing teams to procure all parts to help ramp-up production of the protection respirators, the benefits of which will be felt directly by frontline staff if it gets the green light.

A McLaren spokesman told The Independent: “Over the past two weeks, McLaren, as part of the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium, has been working hard to help answer the government’s call for additional ventilators in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

“The contribution is a joint effort from across the McLaren Group that includes McLaren Racing, McLaren Automotive and McLaren Applied. We look forward to positively contributing to the efforts to tackle the pandemic in support of health services, alongside the other businesses and F1 teams in the consortium.”

Tests will be carried out this week on the usability and comfort of the device, and if the relevant approvals are granted, the product will be made open-source so that the concept can be copied and redeveloped worldwide. Should all go according to plan, McLaren and the University of Southampton will then turn their attention to finding a way of building the same device using materials available in developing countries.

Paul Elkington, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Southampton said: “We must minimise the risk of infection for medical staff and stop them getting sick at the peak of the pandemic, so that they can care for others. The engineering team have rapidly developed something simple yet effective.

“The HEPA filtered air removes 99.95 per cent of particulate matter and the face mask protects from splashes, and so we think this will reduce the risk of infection.”

McLaren’s F1 team are part of the development team helping the NHS fight coronavirus

Hywel Morgan, Professor of Bioelectronics at the University of Southampton added: “This is an excellent example of industry, universities and hospitals combining their expertise and answering the call to develop solutions needed to save lives in the current crisis.

“We are really grateful to our partners at McLaren, Kemp Sails and INDO on behalf of Baynhams for their commitment in working around the clock with us to getting this from a concept to a working prototype in a matter of days.”

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