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F1 technical boss honoured by Queen for life-saving COVID device

Red Bull signing Ben Hodgkinson has been honoured by the Queen for a device he engineered to help COVID patients.

Ben Hodgkinson's name may have become prominent in recent months as he was signed to head up Red Bull's new Powertrains department, but the British engineer has been given an honour by the Queen for a device he was responsible for creating during his time at Mercedes. Working at Mercedes High-Performance Powertrains at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Hodgkinson took on the challenge of reverse engineering a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device. A CPAP allows COVID patients to be looked after by a regular nurse, but the UK only had a scarce number available. Using a 25-year-old model, calls were made by top-level universities to work out how to reproduce and make a new model quickly. This was when Hodgkinson was contacted, who got permission from his Mercedes bosses to take on the task and picked his best engineers to help him while F1 entered an enforced shutdown. After just 10 days of near 24 hour work, a Mark II UCL-Ventura device prototype was created – an improvement on the older model as it reduced the amount of oxygen required. The prototype was quickly approved and the UK government ordered 10,000 such devices. Using the Mercedes factory in Brixworth, which was completely repurposed, they made 1,000 a day to fill the order with workers even packaging them in the factory's restaurant area. "I've worked in Formula 1 for 20 years," Hodgkinson told the Northampton Chronicle . "You're pushed hard and it's quite stressful, but you have this mental retreat that it's only racing, it's not life or death. "This was life or death. The few hours [of] sleep I stole I felt guilty about. I just felt terrible leaving each morning."

"It was my duty"

With Hodgkinson's work part of F1's 'Project Pitlane', which saw UK-based F1 teams brainstorming ways to use their engineering minds and facilities to help design and manufacture medical devices, he was honoured by the Queen in the 2022 New Year Honours list. He has been awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to the National Health Service. "I am proud that I did it but I also do not feel as worthy as some," he said. "What I did was work incredibly hard for about three weeks. There are doctors and nurses who have been working in these conditions, day and night, for months and months. "I helped as much as I possibly could and it was something that I knew how to do. It was just my duty." Hodgkinson's design was released publicly to allow it to be produced around the world, with 1300 teams in 25 countries recreating it for healthcare use.

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