8 Days to Beijing: What Do They Do if a Formula-E Car Crashes?
Like a lot of people, at one point I thought racing car crashes were cool. It was probably a very human remnant of crashing toy cars as a kid. Or crashing Big Wheels, bikes, or anything that could propel me and my friends into a crash.
As adults we still like it, even though we suppress it under layers of maturity. It’s still a reliable factor when assessing the likelihood of people coming to watch a race either live or on TV. It drives attendance at monster truck shows, and those that are comfortable with their need to see destruction go to demolition derbies.
In reality, we want to see the crash without the injury or fatality. Who wouldn’t? Vicariously we want drivers to embrace the ‘rubbin’ is racin’ attitude of Harry Hogge from ‘Days of Thunder’. But we are horrified and outraged when a driver is seriously injured or dies. In the US, the death of Dale Earnhardt was close to a national tragedy. Formula 1 fans still mourn the late Aryton Senna, who died in 1994 while leading the San Marino Grand Prix.
When the green flag waves in Beijing in 8 days, there will inevitably be some watching who will want to see a crash. There are common dangers in racing vehicles at all levels: blunt-force trauma, dangers from rollover and airborne accidents, as well as fire. Formula-E adds new layers of danger: electric shocks and fire, battery case ruptures and related fire. But if the worst happens, we will see a new set of safety and medical procedures go into effect.
FIA (International Federation of Automobiles, in English), as the ruling body over all Formula racing takes safety seriously. FIA recently discussed Formula-E safety concerns and procedures in an article that appeared at the Auto+Medical, the international journal of motorsport medicine:
FIA and Formula E have brought together a team of experts to ensure the strictest safety and medical procedures are adhered to by everyone in the championship. The operation is overseen by a working group led by FIA head of Safety Jacques Berger, Formula E Technical Director Carlos Nunes, MDD Europe Director Mark Lait and Dr Phil Rayner, who is the first permanent Medical Delegate for the championship.
“The issues that we have to consider are potential risks from an electrical drive system,” said Dr Rayner. “We have looked closely at the Formula E system and although it is an extremely safe system with a huge amount of fail-safe engineering built in, we still have to think about the worst- case scenario.”
The Formula-E cars you will see whizzing around the track in China and other cities are designed for speed and safety. They are racing in leading urban centers with world-class medical facilities and personnel never more than 20 minutes away. There is an advanced medical facility trackside. The cars have been crash tested. There are safeguards built into each car to prevent electric shock and fire. The battery casings are tested to withstand motion and impact. In case of emergency, each car has 1 on-board fire extinguisher and two extinguisher ports for the battery casing. These ports allow emergency crew to suppress battery fires by venting fire suppressant directly into the casing. And there’s more:
Alongside fire extinguishers and protective clothing, bespoke apparatus has been designed by MDD. “We have supplied specific electrical safety equipment that includes a tool to pull an electric shock victim away from a car if they are holding on involuntarily,” says Lait. “We have also designed specialist respirators in case of fire and arc flash protection, which is equipment that prevents electricity arcing to a team member.”
FIA has gone a step further to train all crews on EV safety measures. All pit crews, marshals, staff, and race-day personnel are trained to a higher level of proficiency.
“This involves a high level of first aid training to deal with traumatic injuries. We do specific modules on the treatment of electric shocks and early defibrillation in relation to electric shocks,”
…In other championships, one member from each team would receive training but Formula E is different. Lait explains: “The decision to educate all team members was the result of a discussion with the working group. First of all, there are four live cars in the garage at any time, which is double the number in Formula One. you have additional equipment in the garage such as battery chargers so there is a significantly higher opportunity of an injury.”
The working group was keen to ensure that the medical course was thorough and covered every scenario. “We train each person to a standard that we call ‘first person on scene’,” says lait. “That is the equivalent of ambulance technician’s qualifications. It is a two-day course and gets them to a very high standard of first aid training.”
With all-electric technology being untested at this level of international motor sport, series organisers realise that a hands-on approach is necessary to bring local medical staff up to speed. Dr. Rayner will brief the medical and extrication teams the day before each event as many of them will not have seen these cars before. Formula E will also take a team of six experienced marshals from Donington to provide a core unit with experience of these cars.
Dr. Rayner, who is also Chief Medical Officer of Wales Rally GB and Deputy Chief Medical Officer of the British Grand Prix, explains: “We want a core team of people going out to each race, that we know have the experience to detect if things are not quite right and be able to deal with these problems quickly and efficiently.”
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