How Formula One pit stop techniques are helping to save the lives of critically ill newborn babies

The high-speed choreography of Formula One pit stops could help save the lives of critically ill babies.

Doctors and nurses at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, are being trained by the Williams pit crew in the hope of fine-tuning the resuscitation of premature newborn babies.

Williams recorded the fastest pit stop time of any team at each of the first four races of the 2016 F1 season.

Dr Rachel Hayward, a neonatal care specialist at the hospital, approached the team after realising that vital seconds were being lost in treating babies with breathing problems.

She said that following a consultation with Williams, the hospital introduced three major changes. “The first was to improve our trolley with equipment. We have colour coded things and we want to make preformed inserts for drawers,” she said.

The second was to improve the way that the team navigates space and the third was to refine “team dynamics”. “Everyone now has an identified role so before we get started they are clear on what they are doing, whether it is airways or cardiac,” she said, adding that they had presented their new working model to other hospitals in Wales.

“It’s too early to say if the new processes have saved any lives, but the feedback we’ve had is that the trolley is much more accessible and organised, and every improvement will benefit us,” she added.

Engineers at Williams practice about 2,000 pit stops a year to try to shave seconds off their time.

“Both scenarios require a team of people to work seamlessly in a time critical and space-limited environment,” said Williams. “In F1, a pit crew can change all four tyres on a car in around two seconds, with a team of nearly 20 people working in unison to successfully service a car.”

Dr Hayward’s team spent a day at Williams’ headquarters in Oxfordshire and said that it was also looking at adopting some of the hand signals used by the engineers and video playbacks of resuscitations to try to improve their response.

The hospital has asked GoPro, the video camera company, for headcameras so that they can “thoroughly analyse things afterwards” in a debrief.

Williams said it would look at other ways of bringing its expertise into healthcare. “We were delighted to assist,” said Claire Williams, the daughter of Sir Frank Williams and the founder of the F1 team.

“Their work is vitally important and the pressure they work under is difficult to comprehend. If some of the advice we have passed on helps to save a young life then this would have been an extremely worthy endeavour.”