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F1: At the British Grand Prix, the Medical Team Looks After Everyone

In 2023, 480,000 fans attended over the four days of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Those people, the drivers and the team members were watched over by the more than 100 staff members at the medical center at Silverstone.

It is “effectively dealing with the population of a large town each day,” Peter Hutchinson, the chief medical officer of the event and a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Cambridge, said in an interview in June.

And like in any large town, its residents get hurt. In 2023, the center treated about 1,000 people, mostly for minor injuries that just required first aid. And while there were no on-track accidents that required their attention last year, they did jump into action in 2022 when Zhou Guanyu, a driver with Alfa Romeo, got into a crash that required him to be extricated from his car after it was wedged between the fencing and a barrier.

“It was an amazing experience of how the people from the medical center help you,” Zhou said in an interview. “To keep you calm and relaxed, continuously making sure you remember what’s happened, because that’s all that matters when you have a big crash like that.

“They checked everything, making sure I was all right, that my body had settled down before they could release me. I have huge respect for the people working there because they are there to look after us, which means the world to us.”

The F.I.A., the sport’s governing body, requires a medical center at every Grand Prix, and the one at Silverstone will have a team of 123 this year. In 1996, it was 40. The growth is because of an increase in attendance and an extension of the working day, with events running to midnight long after the on-track action has finished.

“We need to have two trauma teams, one with a surgeon, one with an anaesthetist, and we need emergency department doctors, access to a neurosurgeon, a burns surgeon and access to X-rays and ultrasound to assess the patients,” said Nick James, the deputy chief medical officer who has worked at the British Grand Prix since 1995.

“Where things have changed within the medical center is that, because of the crowds, we tend to have a G.P. [general practitioner] or an extra emergency department doctor to deal with some public issues.”

James, a consultant plastic reconstructive and aesthetic surgeon, said a reason for staff expansion was the need for more nurses.

“They can’t work from 6 in the morning until late at night looking after patients all the time, so we need double the number,” he said. “We cannot have them tired at the end of the day.

“Also, because the team has gelled and works very well together, a lot of other people who are involved in the rescue and safety of drivers and the crowd have come under our wing, so a team of 40 has expanded to 123 because we have extrication crews and rescue crews as part of the team.”

The British Grand Prix takes place in July, but planning for the medical center and putting together the team of volunteers starts in February.

“It’s probably a six-month process,” Stephanie Garner, the medical team coordinator for the last 28 years, said. “We have a look at who we are going to invite and where we go from there. That sets the ball rolling.”

“The majority of my work happens in the months prior. If I go to the event and I sit and don’t do a huge amount during the course of it, it means I’ve done a good job.”

Hutchinson said the medical team at Silverstone was “probably the best in the world for motor racing,” tackling an event that has become “the largest single-venue spectator sport in the U.K.”

“If you look at the numbers we get over the weekend for a single venue, it’s a big responsibility,” Hutchinson said. “People tend to focus on us looking after the drivers, the officials. But most of our work comes from looking after the crowd.”

“It’s probably the best place to be unwell on a Sunday in the U.K. as you will get the highest quality of care,” he said.

Dr. Ian Roberts, an F.I.A. Formula 1 medical delegate and the F.I.A. chief medical officer for Formula 1 who was the chief medical officer of the British Grand Prix before Hutchinson, said there were several medical services he would “hold up as gold standard.”

“They would be events and services I would recommend for C.M.O.s [chief medical officers] and D.C.M.O.s [deputy chief medical officers] who are up-and-coming to go and see how it’s done, and Silverstone is one of them,” he said.

At Silverstone and other circuits, there are medical personnel “on the ground who deal with bumps and scrapes, as it were,” Roberts said, before “being able to escalate to a higher level of care should that be necessary.”

Roberts said there was a “tiered response” at Silverstone that included St John Ambulance, the British Red Cross and Silverstone Medical Services before incidents were referred to the medical center.

“The medical center at Silverstone has a dual role,” he said. “In most cases, a medical center purely looks at the track. We at the F.I.A. ensure the track comes first, but then the spectator medical services merge into that.

“Silverstone has the peripheral medical services, but then you have this very central medical center that can deal with the most severe cases, and they have done in the past, very successfully.”

Hutchinson highlighted an incident a few years ago as a Grand Prix started.

“We had a patient in one of the stands with a cardiac arrest, which is quite challenging to manage,” he said. “They looked at me in the race control and they said, ‘What do you want to do? Should racing stop?’ I said, ‘We get on with the race,’ knowing the medical team would treat the patient. It did, and the man survived.

“What we all find is we’re often dealing with quite difficult situations, multiple situations occurring at the same time,” he said. “Naturally, safety is paramount. With the right people there, we can address those challenges.”

Steven Hunter, the cardiothoracic surgeon for the event since 1997 who cared for Zhou, said the medical team at Silverstone had developed “a camaraderie over the years” that had ensured high standards of care.

“We’ve known each other now for the best part of three decades, and the main thing is we do this for the fun of it,” he said.

“But there is a responsibility,” Hunter said. “It is quite difficult at times. Every minute counts, and we have to be really on it all the time, everybody working together to deliver the event in the safest possible terms. That’s why we’re there.”

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