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Racing motorcycles at more than 340 km/h can be a risky business at times and the number of crashes during practice or races over the course of the season often reaches more than 500 – so medical assistance onsite at each circuit is of vital importance.
Seemingly defying the laws of gravity, riders lean into the track while moving at phenomenal speed and sometimes lose control of the front or rear end of their bikes and take a tumble, often sliding across the asphalt or gravel traps to safety at trackside.
Some crashes are more serious than others but the number of rider referrals to hospital in emergencies is now very low (4-5 per season in recent years). This is thanks to the increasing safety features of the riders’ protective equipment, the increasing reliability of their machinery, improved safety features, permanent medical facilities at the circuits and in no small part the work of the dedicated staff at MotoGP’s travelling medical facility – Clinica Mobile.
Dr Claudio Costa and his Clinica Mobile unit celebrated 30 years of World Championship involvement in 2007, and have become part of the fabric of MotoGP, as the ever present Italian and his dedicated staff play crucial roles at each Grand Prix.
At some stage or another all Grand Prix riders have visited the famous little mobile hospital, but it is not just the competitors who occasionally need help. Everybody working at the circuit on Grand Prix weekends can seek advice or treatment at Clinica Mobile, from journalists, stewards and chefs to mechanics and team managers. Whether the injury is a broken leg for a MotoGP™ star or sore throat for a commentator, the Clinica is always ready to provide help.
In the early days of World Championship road racing medical facilities were often far from adequate, while safety standards at tracks were nowhere near the level they have been brought up to in the modern era.
Dr Claudio Costa, the son of a race organiser, decided to do something about it in the early 1970s. The travelling medical facility has its origins in Italy, where Dr Claudio’s father Checco was the organiser of the first 200-mile race at Imola which took place in April 1972. Costa Senior asked his son to manage the medical facilities for the historical event and Dr Claudio soon realised that he and his team of specialists from Bologna could be of assistance at Grand Prix venues throughout the world.
Those early days were far from easy for Dr Costa’s valiant staff, travelling to each Grand Prix by rail, road and sea, carrying boxes of medical equipment to attend to patients.
A mobile clinic that could be transported to each event was clearly what was needed and five seasons later it became a reality when a Clinica Mobile unit took its place in the paddock at the Salzburgring in Austria on May 1st, 1977.
On that very first weekend the medics onsite were called into action when five riders were badly hurt during the same incident in the 250cc class, including Franco Uncini, who was given life saving emergency treatment. Sadly, the medics attending to Swiss rider Hans Stadelmann discovered that his injuries were tragically so serious they proved to be lethal - despite immediate assistance.
Were it not for Clinica Mobile many more riders may have suffered the same fate over the decades which have followed, with the lives of Uncini, Philippe Coulon, Michael Rougerie and Virginio Ferrari almost certainly saved by the travelling doctors in those early years.
Since the 1970s there have been five new editions of the Clinica Mobile unit, as it has evolved to keep pace with medical advancement often thanks to donations from the riders who have received treatment from Dr Costa and his team. The esteem in which the facility is held has been illustrated by a blessing in person of one unit by Pope John Paul II in Rome in 1988 and a visit from King Juan Carlos of Spain to a later incarnation of the clinic in 1997.
The role of Clinica Mobile has also changed with the times, with the introduction of a Medical Director - Dr. Claudio Macchiagodena, and the building of permanent medical centres at each circuit to provide the equipment, staff and hospital back-up to deal with life threatening emergencies – the importance of which was driven home years earlier by the work of Dr Costa and his assistants. There are now also helicopter ambulances available to transport any stricken riders to the nearest specialist unit should such a service be required.
The present day clinic was opened in Jerez in 2002 by a group of World Champions including five-time title winner Mick Doohan - a rider who of course is intrinsically linked to the history of Clinica Mobile. The popular Australian Doohan was treated by the clinic’s staff when he suffered an accident in 1992 which was so serious that he nearly lost a leg, before returning to Dr Costa’s treatment table in 1999 with another leg injury which ultimately resulted in his retirement.
The 24-hour availability of medical assistance at trackside is of reassurance to everybody who works in MotoGP™ and is a testament to the hard work and vision of Dr Claudio Costa and his team.
Since the 2012 season, there has been a new addition on the form of Medical Intervention Vehicles. The FIM Medical Code and the FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix Regulations require the provision of Medical Rapid Intervention Vehicles. These vehicles provide fallen and injured riders with appropriate and all necessary medical treatment with the minimum of delay to supplement the initial assessment and interventions that may be provided by the personnel from an adjacent medical ground post or ambulance prior to the transfer of the injured rider to the medical centre or hospital.
In addition, in order to ensure consistency and familiarity at each event for the riders and the teams in different countries, a small team of doctors experienced in the immediate management of significant trauma from the Instituto Universitario USP Dexeus in Barcelona was engaged to support, supplement and assist the existing medical service provided locally and their role is in the provision of trackside assistance in the event of serious injury until transfer to the medical centre or hospital.
The deployment of the medical rapid intervention vehicles is by the Race Director in the event of a red flag situation when the race or practice session is stopped on the recommendation of and in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Medical Director and the Clerk of the Course depending on the circuit, the nature and location of the incident.