While 2020 has not been a good year, the tragedy of a global pandemic has shown us the best of humanity – through the selfless efforts of countless individuals and groups to help others in the most difficult circumstances.
Phrases such as ‘hero’ and ‘star’ are too often thrown around liberally, but 2020 has shown who they truly are: the front-line NHS and medical workers who have put themselves at risk to treat others, the healthcare professionals who have looked after the most vulnerable, the essential workers who have kept the country running and those who have put the needs of others above their own.
Support for those heroes often came from unlikely areas. As lockdowns ground the car industry to a halt, many of those involved in it turned to help tackle Covid-19. Car companies and their staff made and donated PPE, helped develop and build vital medical equipment, delivered care packages and more.
Here is a selection of stories showing how the car industry helped in the face of adversity.
Mercedes-AMG - Ben Hodgkinson, head of mechanical engineering, Mercedes High Performance Powertrains
As head of mechanical engineering for Mercedes High Performance Powertrains, Ben Hodgkinson is used to pressure: he helps make the engines that have powered the Mercedes-AMG F1 team to seven straight drivers’ and constructors’ championships. But working on Lewis Hamilton’s engines pales to the challenge of reverse-engineering a small medical device.
“I’ve been in motorsport a long time, so I’ve never known any other pace,” he says. “It can be stressful, but I’ve managed it by saying ‘it’s not life or death’. But this actually was life or death. There was an intensity beyond anything I’ve experienced in F1.”
The WhisperFlow continuous positive airways pressure (CPAP) unit is a mechanical device that enables consistent and effective oxygen delivery to a patient. Hodgkinson became involved in reworking it through his role as a guest lecturer at University College London, a position he was recruited to by Professor Tim Baker. The two had worked together at motorsport firms Mountune and AER.
“When Covid-19 was accelerating in March, Tim called to ask if I could help UCL Engineering work on some respiratory units,” says Hodgkinson. The government focus was on ventilators, but Professor Mervyn Singer and others at UCL Hospital weren’t convinced: their research, and the experience of colleagues in Italy, suggested less invasive CPAP devices could be a better solution. But most modern CPAPs required the same facilities as ventilators, so availability was limited.