The Clinica Mobile has been part of the grand prix paddock since Dr Claudio Costa arrived at the 1977 Austrian GP in his first mobile hospital, a tiny VW van. That weekend at the Armco-lined Salzburgring was a baptism of fire for the Clinica: a mass pile-up during the 350cc race left Johnny Cecotto, Dieter Braun and Patrick Fernandez badly injured and Hans Stadelmann dead.
Costa is now retired and the Clinica Mobile is run by Michele Zasa, a trauma specialist who previously worked with an air-ambulance service in Britain, bringing pre-hospital emergency treatment to road-traffic accident victims.
During Italy’s recent Covid-19 emergency Zasa was on the frontline in his hometown of Parma, so he has more experience of the pandemic than most in the MotoGP paddock. Before the season restarted at Jerez last month, Zasa was part of the team that wrote MotoGP’s Covid-19 medical plan to allow racing to go ahead under a whole new set of regulations and protocols.
Inevitably, the virus has complicated life inside and outside the Clinica. PPE – masks, visors, gowns, gloves and so on – is now an everyday part of Zasa’s life. And all riders visiting the Clinica, whether they’ve just crashed or they need physio or rehab, must abide by the protocols, no matter who they are.
“When riders come to the Clinica they must first go through a triage area that we’ve established,” Zasa explains. “There they have their temperature and oxygen saturation checked. If we have any suspicion that they may be positive [for Covid] they are not brought into the Clinica, instead they are treated in the triage area or they may be taken to the circuit medical centre. Even if they have mild symptoms we cannot risk anything by bringing them into the Clinica.
“I do wonder about humanity’s intelligence. Outside the paddock I see people meeting and talking together without wearing masks”
“And even if riders post a negative result in the triage area we ask them to keep wearing their face masks when they are inside the Clinica. I have to say they all understand and accept this situation. And if they’ve forgotten their mask we give them one.”
Like everyone else in the paddock, Zasa was asked to reduce personnel for this Covid-affected season so when the racing restarted at Jerez he had half his usual physiotherapy staff.
“We don’t want the Clinica to be overcrowded, because this could potentially be dangerous. Usually we bring six or seven physiotherapists, three doctors and one radiologist. When we started work again at Jerez we had three physios and two doctors, including me, and we now use the radiologist from the circuit medical centre. This allows us to continue providing a high level of medical care.”
Although the Clinica is there to look after riders immediately after a crash, its biggest job is doing sports massages, physio and rehab. Most riders get a massage every day, to improve their performance and to keep their bodies flexible, which can reduce injury during a crash.
Michele Zasa and his Clinica Mobile staff at Jerez
Before Jerez the Clinica decided to stop sports massages and only treat riders who needed physio or rehab. But this didn’t go down well with MotoGP riders.
“During the first Jerez weekend we realised that MotoGP riders do need sports massages, because the bikes they ride are so much more physical,” adds Zasa. “Together with Dorna and IRTA we decided to start sports massages for MotoGP riders only at the second Jerez race and from this weekend in Austria we will have four physios in the Clinica.
“When our physios give massages they wear their FFP2 mask at all times and also a face shield if they are working close to the rider’s face.
“Of course this feels a bit strange at first, but people adapt very quickly. This is the greatest strength of human beings throughout evolution, the ability to adapt. However, I do wonder about humanity’s intelligence, because outside the paddock in everyday life I see people meeting and talking together without wearing masks, when we know that a high percentage of the risk of infection is eliminated if people wear masks when they are close to each other.”