Medical team holds key to F1 race start

The Malaysian F1 Grand Prix medical team going through a rescue simulation ahead of the race at the Sepang International Circuit this weekend. - S.S. KANESAN/ The STAR

SEPANG: Not many know this but the Formula One Medical Services Unit at the Sepang Circuit must get the nod from motorsport governing body FIA first before the Petronas Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix can be staged.

Lt Col (Dr) Saravanan Annamalai, who is the head of training and extrication for motorsports, explained that the Friday race action will not be allowed to proceed if the FIA medical delegate is not satisfied with the medical arrangements in place.

“We are tested on our readiness to respond to any emergency situation, either on or off the track. We also have training tests on extricating drivers from their cars,” he said.

“Previously, it was all about how fast you could extricate the drivers. But that’s no longer the case as we have to take care not to complicate their injuries, especially those involving the spinal cord or the neck.

“We extricate them by taking the whole seat from the car ... and we wear our gloves all the time.”

He said the faster they could extricate a driver from the car, the better the driver’s chances of survival.

“We’ll train three teams during the tests this week, with each team comprising six members.

“Each team will have a doctor and a driver doubling up as a paramedic ...they’ll train in an actual Formula One car.

“There will be a final assessment by the FIA medical delegate on Thursday. If we do not meet their requirements, there will be no Formula One race this weekend,” he explained.

But kudos to the unit, headed by Major General Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Zin Bidin for having passed the stringent medical and extrication tests since the inaugural race in 1999.

Dr Sharifah Petom Syed Ali, the emergency physician specialising in motorsports, said that the unit is well-equipped to handle two emergency cases at any one time.

“We’ll have 49 doctors present this weekend. At the track medical centre, we have a group comprising two anaesthetists, a general surgeon, a burns specialist, a neurosurgeon, an orthopaedic surgeon, an emergency physician, a radiologist, two flight surgeon team and two helicopters on standby,” she said.

What’s interesting is that most of the doctors and medical response workers are volunteers.

From major crashes to sunburns, the people manning the Formula One Medical Services Unit are ready to spring into action.

In short, they are the unsung heroes behind the glitz and glamour of the Formula One race.
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