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Formula One teams are using racing tech to tackle coronavirus

In response to the global coronavirus pandemic, companies from a variety of industries are stepping up to manufacture much needed medical equipment. The United Kingdom has called upon one of its most high tech industries: Formula One racing.

Seven F1 teams are based in the U.K. — the most of any country. They’re now working together to manufacture medical equipment for the treatment of patients suffering from this coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19. Called “Project Pitlane,” the effort is part of a U.K. government call for assistance to all industries for help fighting the pandemic.

The teams offered assistance to the government on March 20, but it took several days to gain official confirmation, according to an F1 press release. With the 2020 racing season on hold due to the pandemic, teams will now work on producing more ventilators for patients.

Project Pitlane will focus on three areas: Reverse engineering existing devices, help increasing the production of existing ventilator designs as part of The Ventilator Challenge U.K. consortium, and design and prototype new designs for certification and eventual production.

“F1’s unique ability to rapidly respond to engineering and technological challenges allows the group to add value to the wider engineering industry’s response,” an F1 statement said. Race teams are equipped to manufacture virtually every part on a car, albeit not on a large scale. Teams are used to quickly designing and manufacturing new parts, as cars undergo constant development over the course of a race season.

The seven teams involved in Project Pitlane are Red Bull Racing, Mercedes-AMG, McLaren, Williams, Renault, Haas, and Racing Point. Despite being owned by German and French automakers, and an Austrian energy drink company, the Mercedes, Renault, and Red Bull teams are all based in the U.K. Haas is registered as a United States team, but has a large facility in the U.K. The country is more or less the Silicon Valley of the racing world.

In the U.S., some automakers have begun manufacturing medical equipment, or offered to. General Motors and Ventec Life Systems will produce ventilators at a GM car parts factory in Kokomo, Indiana. Ford is working with GE Healthcare to mass-produce ventilators at the facilities of both companies. GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are also producing personal protective equipment, such as face masks, for healthcare workers.

Despite calling the coronavirus response “dumb” earlier in March, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said he would reopen the company’s New York factory to build ventilators. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also tweeted on Friday that Musk will donate “hundreds” of ventilators. It is unclear if these ventilators will be produced by Tesla or sourced personally by Musk from elsewhere.

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