The danger of concussion in sport has become a major news topic in recent years and this is of particular interest in F1 as several leading drivers have suffered from it following high speed accidents, including Fernando Alonso.
The issue was discussed at the recent FIA medical summit in Vienna highlighting evidence that new quick response technology is set to help medics with their task of identifying and dealing with the condition.
Concussion, also known as mild traumatic brain injury, is a potential problem for Formula 1 drivers involved in crashes and other incidents. Force India’s Sergio Perez and McLaren’s Alonso have both been forced to miss races during their F1 careers as a result of being diagnosed with mild TBI.
American Football players have had widely covered problems with concussion and in recent seasons World Rugby has taken steps to tackle the issue in rugby union.
But according to a report in AUTO+ Medical, the FIA’s International Journal of Motor Sport Medicine, new technology could help doctors diagnose concussion with greater accuracy just a few minutes after a player or driver suffers a serious accident.
During a round-table discussion on concussion in motorsport at the FIA summit, Professor Steve Olvey, the Motor Sport Director at the Sports Medicine Concussion Center of the University of Miami, introduced the I-Portal PAS (Portable Assessment System-integrated head-mounted display and eye-tracking) goggles, which examine eye movement to help diagnose concussion.
The goggles are a smaller, portable version of previous technology that involved a large chair and moving objects that patients had to focus on. The I-Portal PAS goggles can be used anywhere, including race tracks, and the test takes just five minutes to complete. It can also provide objective quantification to diagnose concussion on the spot.
Speaking about the device, Olvey said: “It’s the coming thing. It is going to replace the other tests or maybe go in tandem with them. You could actually do it on site [over] five minutes and you’d have your diagnosis.
“It is clear up to 95 per cent [accuracy]. These tests can diagnose concussion on the spot. The goggles are made to be much more attractive [than the chair test], they’re smaller and they’re reasonably priced so they can be used by racing organisations, teams and so forth.”
F1 Medical Delegate Professor Jean-Charles Piette also spoke at the conference and he explained that a driver returning to action following concussion is not a mere formality.
The tests a driver has to undergo before returning to the cockpit are important to make sure they don’t suffer any further damage after sustaining concussion. Perez, who was hospitalised after crashing his Sauber in qualifying for the 2011 Monaco Grand Prix, missed the next race in Canada after feeling ill in FP1. McLaren test driver, and former Sauber racer, Pedro de la Rosa, replaced him for the race at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Piette said: “It’s not a two-minute play [time] and we need to have a complete chart with the past history [of the patient], the past symptoms and current ones – if any – a clinical detailed examination including balance, and an ImPACT test.
“Afterwards there will be a decision but before then it is important, in my opinion, to have a chat with the driver and no witnesses just to ensure that he really wants to come back to the track and is not forced to do so by his team.”
Researcher calls for more studies into female driver science
With growing numbers of female drivers entering motorsport events, a medical researcher has requested greater discussion and more scientific studies on the topic of female driver science.
Dr Edward Potkanowicz helped to coin the term ‘driver science’, which is defined as the objective and scientific examination of a driver’s physiological response to the cockpit from which data-based recommendations can be made to improve driver safety, tolerance and performance.
In a scientific study testing the physiological responses of female motorsport athletes to the environment of the cockpit that was also published in AUTO+ Medical, he wrote: “From a practical and applied perspective the value of the current case study is that it represents the beginning, and necessary first step, of a new discussion and a starting point for more inclusive work in the area of driver science.”
The new study, which involved testing the physiology of four female drivers before, during and after a stint at the wheel of a race-spec closed cockpit Porsche 944 or Porsche 924, found that female drivers face a similar risk of developing heat stress that could lead to potentially dangerous performance deficits as male drivers. But Potkanowicz explained that recommendations on how female drivers should prepare for the stress of the cockpit are not as well known as they are for men.
“Current general recommendations for managing uncompensable heat stress include adequate hydration, a higher level of fitness, and reduced body fat,” he wrote. “However, given the cited differences between men and women with respect to uncompensable heat stress, one must consider gender differences in the approach to driver training and preparation.”
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